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X-ray Inspections Ensure Patient Safety

By Lisa Mechem

Most of us don’t give it a second thought when we get an x -ray at the dentist’s office because we correctly assume that the equipment our doctors and dentists use has been tested for safety. We can rest easy because the radiation scientists at the Division of Radiation Control (DRC) regularly inspect x-ray equipment across the state to ensure that these diagnostic tools use the minimum amount of radiation necessary for a procedure and that the medical professionals operating the equipment are properly trained and licensed.

The way x-rays work is actually quite interesting—and valuable—because they allow us to see inside our bodies in a unique way. Most of our exposure to man-made radiation comes from medical x-rays. The medical use of x-rays includes:Dental x-rays

  • Radiography, or general x-rays such as chest x-rays or mammograms
  • Fluoroscopy, a continuous x-ray, much like an x-ray movie
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scans

While we’re grateful that medical professionals have these tools available to diagnose problems and keep us healthy, our staff wants to be sure that each person’s exposure to radiation is as low as possible so that the exposure itself doesn’t become a problem.

As an x-ray compliance inspector, I visit medical facilities to evaluate the radiation safety of their programs. This means that I not only test the machines to see that they are operating within allowed limits, but I also check to see that the operators of the machines are trained and/or licensed to take x-rays safely. “Safely” means that they operate the x-ray equipment is a manner that is safe for themselves, the patients, and others who may be nearby. Appropriate training, procedures, and equipment operation means fewer x-ray retakes, and fewer retakes means lower overall doses of radiation.

Not all of the x-ray machines we inspect are used in medicine. We also inspect equipment used in veterinary medicine, food processing facilities, laboratories, and industrial uses. These machines, like medical ones, can range in radiation output from very low to extremely high. It is important that the operators of these machines are trained in operation procedures and radiation safety, both for their own protection as well as for others working in the area.

In addition, I evaluate exposure reports for medical and non-medical workers taken from dosimeters used to measure and monitor individual radiation exposure in the workplace. I make sure that worker exposure falls within the yearly occupational radiation dose limits. These allowable limits are different for radiation workers and members of the public, and pregnant workers have lower occupational dose limits to protect their unborn child.

People frequently express their concerns to me about whether they should be worried about their exposure to x-rays in the workplace or during medical procedures. These are very real concerns, and I am glad I can educate people on radiation safety and clear up any misconceptions they might have about personal health risks from x-rays.

More importantly, I love knowing that when my family and friends have medical imaging done in Utah, they can be confident that the machines are operating properly and that the technicians are trained to provide high quality diagnostic images with the lowest doses of radiation possible.

If you’d like to learn more about DRC’s X-ray program, visit our web pages for more information, including the general guidance we provide medical professionals, x-ray equipment evaluation guidance, comparative exposure data for x-ray procedures in Utah, and our. Still have questions about x-rays? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides excellent information about medical imaging on their web site. You can also learn more about dental x-ray exposure from the American Dental Association and exposure during pregnancy from the Health Physics Society.
Lisa Mechem

I’ve been a compliance inspector in the X-Ray program of the Division of Radiation Control for about three years. My background is in veterinary medicine, and I had my own practice for many years. I enjoy most of the local pastimes, including sand-duning, fishing, sewing, baking, and RV camping (tents went the way of weeding gardens).

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