A study about the overuse of CT [computed tomography] scans relies on input from a limited number of physicians and outdated data to assess physician understanding about the risks of radiation, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), Dallas.

ACEP officials note the study includes a limited survey of fewer than 100 physicians that was conducted more than five years ago, and voiced concerns that patients might be less likely to get CT scans, potentially putting their lives at risk in critical emergency-care situations.

Dr. Linda Lawrence, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP, said emergency physicians are trained to determine which medical symptoms require imaging, and they are fully aware of the risks of exposure. If a patient has a medical situation that warrants a CT scan, the radiation exposure is mitigated by the need to evaluate the patient’s condition to determine the best course of action for that patient. 

“We are concerned about the comparisons, generalizations and gross oversimplifications being made by the study, which could have grave consequence for patients facing emergency care,” Lawrence said.  “In addition, the fear of lawsuits is another reason CT scans are conducted by many physicians. Multiple successful lawsuits have been won against physicians for not performing CT scans, and the nation needs to reform the litigious system in which physicians are punished for using good judgment and not testing.”

ACEP found a positive result of the study is how it shows the need to create personal radiation exposure profiles as part of a patient’s medical record—to avoid excessive cumulative radiation exposure over a lifetime, and to foster discretion in using CT scans, particularly in pediatric patients. The organization supports the proposed use of electronic medical records to supply emergency physicians with patient information if standards and cost issues are addressed.

The study, “Computed Tomography—An Increasing Source of Radiation Exposure,” was published in the Nov 29 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

ACEP counts some 26,000 members.