The safety of patients and medical staff can be ensured when using radioactive substances for medical diagnosis and treatment. That was the message delivered at an IAEA General Conference side event on radiation safety in nuclear medicine today.

Nuclear medicine is a complex discipline, rapidly expanding around the world,” said Peter Johnston, the IAEA Director of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety, opening the event. “Safety and prevention of incidents affecting patients or staff need to be a priority.”

Attended by more than 50 delegates from the IAEA Member States, the event focused on increasing benefits, reducing risks and integrating radiation protection in the quality management systems of nuclear medicine departments at hospitals.

Delivering nuclear medicine

Every year, more than 30 million nuclear medicine procedures are conducted to assist physicians in the diagnosis of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health conditions.

Diagnosis using nuclear medicine relies on the use of radioactive substances that emit a tiny bit of radiation – enough to be detected using a gamma camera, but too small to cause harm when applied in line with accepted protocols.

Using radiopharmaceuticals allows doctors to identify diseases at an early stage, often before the onset of any symptoms. Nuclear medicine is also used for the treatment of certain types of cancer with radioactive substances.

“As the use of nuclear medicine increases, it is imperative that staff and patient safety are ensured through adherence to the highest quality standards and IAEA recommendations,” said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the Division of Human Health at the IAEA.

"At the same time the clinical effectiveness and efficiency of nuclear medicine practice, as well as patient satisfaction must be continuously improved,” said Abdel-Wahab.

Quality management for better healthcare

“To minimize risks in nuclear medicine, strict quality management and procedures to prevent accidents, mitigate consequences and avoid repetition of the same errors need to be promoted,” said Mario Marengo, Head of Medical Physics Department at the University hospital in Bologna, Italy, who delivered a presentation.

"Such a system should include reporting and learning from past accidents to improve safety,” said Marengo. Speakers highlighted the importance of teamwork among different professionals, necessary to ensure both the good clinical outcome and the highest possible level of safety.

They discussed typical causes of incidents and contributing factors, such as administering the wrong pharmaceutical or an incorrect dose or giving a drug intended for one patient to another.

They noted that regular quality audits play an essential role in making sure that protocols are adhered to, and the risk of such mistakes is minimized. Participants learned about the IAEA Safety Standards and guidelines, available training for end-users and regulators, platforms for knowledge exchange, and quality management audits in nuclear medicine practices.