Effective Patient Education in Medical Imaging: Public Perceptions of Radiation Exposure Risk

Article excerpt

Patient perceptions of risk for harm influence their decisions concerning medical procedures and feelings of satisfaction with medical care choices. Radiologic technologists, dental hygienists, and other allied health professionals frequently are asked by patients to explain the radiation exposure dose and health risk associated with an imaging procedure. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the radiation risk perceptions within the community to develop an effective patient education strategy for health professionals based on the responses of 200 participants in a crosssectional survey. Less than half of the adults responding to the survey agreed with experts regarding the risk of radiation exposure from various sources, and 75% to 90% of the responders thought that imaging providers should be highly educated and highly regulated. With efficacious patient education, appropriate risk comparisons can be made in simple terminology by addressing the public's knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes toward sources of radiation exposure. J Allied Health. 2002; 31: 159-164.

GLARING IMAGES OF BIRTH DEFECTS and skin ulceration attributed to invisible radiation exposure make radiation sinister and threatening to patients. The snippets of information and misinformation provided by the media on the risks and hazards of radiation exposure create heightened public awareness, concern, and confusion. Studies involving professional groups, business clubs, and college students consistently revealed that most people overestimate the risk of industrial radiation sources and underestimate the risk of medical radiation applications.1

Variations in measurement resulting from the type of radiation source, length of exposure, volume of tissue exposed, and sensitivity of the tissue exposed further complicate effective communication between health professionals and laypersons. Although the care provider may know the radiation dose and health risks of a particular medical procedure, many struggle to respond adequately to patient concerns and questions simply because the patient does not understand dose terminology. Little research on perceptions of radiation exposure risks and its implications for patient education in medical imaging exists.

Patient education about radiation and its effects logically should be part of the responsibilities of any care provider involved in the delivery of imaging services. The perception of risk influences patient decisions concerning medical procedures and their feelings of satisfaction with the delivery of care during imaging examinations. Every patient knows some information about his or her examination, and has opinions regarding the risk of radiation exposure. Professional care providers must address the emotional needs of the patient and provide objective facts.1 The duty of all health providers is to help the patient make an informed decision without deciding for the patient. An efficacious patient education model requires understanding the radiation health beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors prevalent within the communities we serve.

The hypotheses of this research are as follows:

1. Most people think that imaging providers should be highly qualified and that they should be highly regulated.

2. Most people underestimate the ability of imaging personnel to minimize radiation dose during medical procedures.

3. Most people have limited accurate knowledge about radiation to use for a foundation when making decisions about their medical procedures.

4. Perceptions and behaviors within the community regarding radiation exposure risks reflect beliefs and attitudes rather than show accurate information and knowledge.

According to the health belief model, people base their choices on the perceived threat versus benefits. Misconceptions about radiation risks can alter their expectations of benefit compared with the risk. Appropriate education efforts rectify errors in judgment linked to inadequate or inaccurate information. …