When taking an X-ray, the radiation only scatters very close to the area being scanned. Photo: Siru Kaartinen, hospital physicist, Pohjois-Savo wellbeing district

Health & wellbeing

In a significant shift in medical imaging practices, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, in collaboration with Finland's Society of Radiographers and the Radiological Society's physicists, has issued new guidelines regarding patient protection during X-ray examinations. The updated recommendation asserts that radiation shields, traditionally used during X-rays, are no longer necessary due to the minimal impact they have on reducing patient radiation exposure.

Over the past few decades, there has been a notable decline in the radiation doses patients receive during X-ray procedures. This reduction is attributed to advancements in imaging technology and a better understanding of radiation effects and risks. Modern X-ray equipment requires significantly less radiation to produce diagnostic images, thereby diminishing the relative benefit of radiation shields.

The focus of patient protection has shifted to other strategies. These include limiting the scanned area, employing radiation dose automation in contemporary imaging equipment, selecting appropriate imaging directions, and effectively preparing patients for the procedure. These measures ensure patient safety while maintaining the quality of diagnostic imaging.

Interestingly, the use of traditional radiation shields can sometimes be counterproductive. Shields need to be placed very close to the targeted area to be effective. However, this proximity can interfere with the imaging process, potentially requiring a repeat of the procedure if the initial images are not diagnostically sufficient.

Despite the widespread adoption of these new guidelines in Finland's imaging units, the change represents a departure from long-established practices familiar to both medical staff and patients. To address this, the recommendation acknowledges that in certain cases, the use of protective shields may be justified. Particularly, if their use enhances the patient's sense of security without compromising the examination's effectiveness.

This approach marks a significant development in medical imaging practices, reflecting an ongoing commitment to patient safety and the efficient use of medical technology.