If your physician orders imaging services for you — whether X-ray, MRI, CT Scan or PET scan — you might wonder how safe is it to be exposed to radiation. Radiation safety is an important part of the health care process, closely regulated by medical physicists. At Hartford HealthCare, that responsibility belongs to Radiation Safety Officer and Medical Physicist Bette Blankenship.
Q: Describe your role as radiation safety officer at Hartford HealthCare.
A: My role as the HHC Radiation Safety Officer is to guide each department using radionuclides in patient treatment or patient imaging (as in nuclear medicine, PET/CT imaging and radiation oncology) and also each department using X-ray-producing equipment for patient treatment or patient imaging (as in Radiology, Cardiology, Radiation Oncology, the Operating Room or the Emergency Department).
My job is to assure Hartford HealthCare maintains the safe use of radionuclides and the safe use of radiation producing equipment, and to assure Hartford HealthCare compliance with the state and federal regulations and standards written to protect patients, staff and physicians.
If a department uses radiation of any kind, it’s my job to assure that use it is done efficiently and safely for everyone involved.
Q: When it comes to radiation exposure, what should patients know or be aware of?
A: Questions I’ve been asked by patients include, “How can I be sure the CT device imaging me was safe?” and “How can I be sure the treatment device used for my cancer treatment was safe?” Both are excellent questions. In answering these questions, I emphasize that Hartford HealthCare employs only board-certified Qualified Medical Physicists to test and evaluate radiation equipment. That board certification is important. It is the gold standard for physicists responsible for the radiation produced and the protocols used to image or treat our patients.
Equipment and procedures are routinely reviewed by the physics staff to assure low-radiation exposure protocols are in use. Patients should always feel comfortable in asking if a facility uses a Qualified Medical Physicist (QMP) in the testing and designing the radiation procedures used by the facility. To be identified as a QMP, the required physics education process and board certification process must be met. It is a standard by which Hartford HealthCare abides for all of its medical physicists.
Q: Tell us about your recent visit to Washington to speak on Capitol Hill.
A: I was invited to Capitol Hill as a panel member for a national work group called the Sealed Source Work Group (SSWG). Our workgroup task was to meet with the Congressional Committee to review current uses of radionuclides used for patient care and treatment and to also introduce exciting advances in newly approved radionuclide therapies. Hartford Hospital was recently approved as one of the approximate 100 institutions approved in the nation for Lutathera treatments, a ‘first-of-its-kind’ treatment for Neuroendocrine tumors.
These new therapy successes are in many instances, the only option a patient may have for cancer treatment. The hope was to encourage congressional support in keeping the pipeline open and unobstructed for new radionuclide approval intended for patient care. Unobstructed funding for research and patient availability to the several new radionuclide therapies in the approval process as we speak.
Q: You were just recognized with a prestigious honor from the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) as an elected fellow of the association. Tell us more.
A: The AAPM is a national society of medical physicists whose mission is in advancing medicine through excellence in the science, education and professional practice of medical physics. The AAPM includes about 8,600 members in 94 countries. Less than 7 percent of the AAPM members are elected as fellows of the organization. Fellowship in AAPM recognizes an individual’s contributions through:
- Service to AAPM
- The advancement of medical physics knowledge based upon independent original research or development
- Medical physics educational activities, especially in regard to the education and training of medical physicists, medical students, medical residents and allied health personnel
- Leadership in the practice of medical physics
I was humbled by the nomination and further honored and pleased to be included in the gathering of colleagues who are also Fellows of the AAPM.