Would you ever think that physicians – whose jobs involve improving the health of others – might be risking their own health in their day-to-day work? For interventional cardiologists (ICs), the occupational hazards of working in the cath lab are coming under even greater scrutiny these days as more and more information is being revealed on the health risks associated with excessive radiation exposure and the protective gear ICs wear while performing procedures such as percutaneous coronary interventions (PCI).
A few months ago when posting on this issue, we cited a number of articles that examined this topic, along with a study that explored the increasing incidence of head and neck tumors in interventional cardiologists. The good news is that new methods and techniques have emerged over the past few years that help ICs limit their exposure to radiation. One method of protection is radiation exposure monitoring. All physicians and staff wear badges to measure their exposure to harmful radiation. If they exceed the allowed dose in a given month, they will not be allowed in the lab for a period of time. The age-old method for reducing radiation exposure however, involves wearing heavy, lead-lined aprons. Unfortunately, the weight of this gear often puts a physical strain on physicians, leading to significant incidence of orthopedic injury in the long term.
As this issue continues to be a topic of discussion, we believe it is necessary to explore ways occupational hazards and radiation safety in the cath lab are perceived by those affected the most – the physicians. We decided to gather feedback from a group of interventional cardiologists on:
- To what extent are they aware of the potential risks to their health?
- Do they see themselves at higher risk because of their profession?
- Do they believe the potential health consequences will affect their careers?
The feedback we’ve received is certainly indicative of a paradigm shift within the interventional community. One of the more remarkable findings from the survey revealed that a majority of respondents (80%) believe they are at higher risk for orthopedic injury or sickness from radiation exposure due to their profession, with over half having adjusted their practices to further reduce radiation exposure. A 2004 study conducted by the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) additionally found that 60% of physicians who had logged 21 years or more in the cath lab reported having spine problems. More than 1/3 of the survey participants also reported that they were forced to miss work due to spine problems. Considering such findings, the most significant question looming over the issue of occupational hazards in the cath lab remains: Is enough actually being done to protect interventionalists?
We hope you return in the coming weeks to learn more, as we explore this issue and the additional findings from our survey of interventional cardiologists. Stay tuned!