CT Head Scans For Children: Make Sure They're Necessary

Source: Soniya Sheth, NJ Hospital Assocation
I’m a pediatric nurse practitioner, but I’m also a mom. I understand completely when worried parents come into our practice and want quick answers about their child’s injury or illness. That’s especially important when it comes to head injuries.
With what we’ve learned so much in recent years about the potential long-term impacts of concussions, We must take the right precautions to protect kids from head injuries and also diagnose them properly. And that’s why we tell parents not to rush in to a computed tomography (CT) scan for their kids.
Each scan exposes a child to significant levels of radiation. Last year, the New Jersey Hospital Association joined with hospitals and pediatric providers across the state in a public outreach effort called #ScanSmart. Our goal is to protect kids from the downstream risks of exposure to radiation through unnecessary scans.
Parents must be partners with their children’s physicians and nurses to make the right treatment decisions. Here’s what parents should know in the event that their kids experience a head injury — CT scans:
· use ionizing radiation to take several images — a diagnostic tool which provide important information to the medical team about a child’s injury.
· expose the patient to much higher levels of radiation than an X-ray — 60-80 times greater in comparison with a routine X-ray.
· carry a small risk for cancer — however, children are much more sensitive to radiation than adults, and they will be exposed to increasing amounts of radiation over their lifetimes.
It’s perfectly OK to ask, “Is this scan necessary?” If your’re told that a CT scan is needed, remember that the benefit to your child outweighs the risks: it will provide important information about the best possible treatment options. And along with informing parents, we also work with hospitals and physicians to help them follow good brain scan protocols — we’ve named it the COOL approach:

Consider using testing without radiation;
Only the indicated area of the head should be scanned, and just Once;
Use Lowest amount of radiation needed.

I’m happy to report that this effort has decreased the number of unnecessary CT scans in children with minor head injuries by 30.8 percent so far, protecting those them from the potential impacts of radiation later in their lives.

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