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MGH Customizes CT Radiation Doses via 'Virtual Autopsy'

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 1, 2011

Using cadavers, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are testing and customizing CT protocols to dramatically cut the dosage needed for live patients by as much as half the reference levels nationally.

"We have to ask the question, have all providers of imaging services that use radiation optimized their protocols? We realized that very sadly, the answer to that is no, they have not," said radiologist-in-chief James H. Thrall, MD, who founded the MGH Webster Center, which grew out of a decade's worth of radiation dose research efforts at MGH.

In part because of recent accidents such as the overdose of more than 200 brain perfusion patients at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in 2009, and other well-publicized CT miscalculation errors, and the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation report from the National Academy of Sciences, physicians need to be more cautious about radiation. They should use just that which is necessary to get an image that's good enough for diagnosis, Thrall says.

"A lot of radiologists value very high quality images, and a lot of radiologists have the orientation that the best image you can get is what you should try to get," he says. "They try to make images that look very, very pretty, instead of making images that are good enough.

"Well, in retrospect, we realized that we don't need to get the best image to give an accurate diagnosis," he says.

Through the Webster Center,  launched last September with a $750,000 grant from the late Edward (Ted) Webster, an educator and scientist with the MGH's Department of Radiology, MGH is publishing a variety of protocols for imaging various parts of the body.

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