February is American Heart Month which is a time to raise awareness for heart disease, a leading cause of death in the United States. As the medical community continues to learn more about the causes of heart disease, we can develop new and better ways to prevent onset and treat patients. A key factor in educating the patient community is developing awareness for the ways in which individuals can prevent the development of heart disease. In the medical community however, many physicians who treat these patients face risks of their own. These risks are related to occupational exposure to ionizing radiation exposure.
Just this week at the International Symposium on Endovascular Therapy (ISET), interventionalists from several specialties got together for a special session entitled “Managing the Lifetime Risk of Being an Interventionalist.” The session, which some called “depressing,” highlighted the serious risks plaguing interventionalists and their staff. These include brain tumors, cataracts, and orthopedic injury among others. In a spotlight article on the session written by TCTMD, Dr. Gregg Stone of Columbia University Medical Center is quoted saying “We give up so much, and we’re so passionate about our specialty and our patients that we do these [procedures at] tremendous personal risks to ourselves and sometimes to our own staff. And I think that does have to change.”
As discussed in a recent blog post, there has been a sharp increase in the number of studies focused on these occupational hazards in the last year. These include the BRAIN Study which found that interventionalists receive 4.7 times more radiation exposure on the left side of their head than on the right, and a new study that found a possible link between radiation exposure and cognitive impairment. As the number of interventionalists reporting known risks increases and new risks continue to present themselves, it is clear that more needs to be done to protect these physicians and their staff.
Just as education is critical in preventing heart disease in patients, the medical community must educate themselves on ways to improve radiation safety and on the solutions available to reduce the occupational hazards they face. For interventional cardiologists and their teams, robotic-assisted PCI is a solution that has the potential to improve safety across the board. Physicians are able to perform procedures in a radiation shielded environment without the need for leaded personal protective equipment with over 95% reduction in exposure.* At the same time, they have the angiographic screens positioned within the workstation for enhanced visualization of the patient’s anatomy. When performing these procedures, staff may also be able to reduce their radiation exposure as the system enables them to step further away from the radiation source.
Sessions such as the one at ISET are one of the ways to shed light on this issue and begin to raise awareness of the risks. By combining best practices for radiation safety in the cath lab with the adoption of new technologies such as robotic-assisted PCI, interventional cardiology teams have the opportunity to continue performing these lifesaving procedures without risking their own health in the process.
*Weisz, G. et al. Safety and Feasibility of Robotic Percutaneous Coronary Intervention: PRECISE Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013;61(15):1596-1600.