Smart Cards Track Radiation Exposure

A new "Smart Card" project in development by the IAEA will aim to keep track of how much radiation patients are exposed to.

A new “Smart Card” project in development by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will aim to keep track of how much radiation patients are exposed to during the course of disease detection using microchip technology.

“There has been concern that new technologies are not providing the amount of patient protection that medical professionals had expected,” said Dr. Madan Rehani, an IAEA radiation safety specialist, in a statement on the IAEA website. “This comes from continued radiation accidents in radiotherapy facilities and continued reports of unnecessary radiation doses to patients in those diagnostic examinations.”

The Smart Card team will have its first meeting in 2009, but medical professionals, radiation protection experts and machine manufacturers have been meeting to discuss recommendations and guidelines to be used in the initiative.

In 10 years’ time, the project aims to allow curious patients to monitor their radiation exposure to see how much they have encountered, not only during a current treatment, but also over the course of their lives.

According to statistics from the IAEA, in a given year, about 4 billion X-rays are performed, 30 million nuclear medicine examinations are done, and 5 million patients undergo radiotherapy. The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation reported in 2000 that patients are exposed to about 200 times more ionizing radiation than medical workers. In some countries, the findings continued, this figure can be about 500 times.

Dr. Rehani is currently working with healthcare personnel throughout the world to gather data on radiation exposure.“We also have projects in Member States, finding out how much radiation patients are getting in different imaging procedures,” Rehani said.

The Member States are 82 areas around the world that are involved in radiation exposure testing and data compilation. They include parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Medical personnel in these locations are currently involved in studies, after which they are taught about how to reduce patients’ exposure to radiation without adversely impacting diagnostic testing or quality.

Dr. Rehani has already developed some ideas about how the program would work, but advises that the entire concept is still in the very early stages of development. “We don’t intend to make it obligatory,” Rehani explained. “It will be a voluntary system. So it will take many years before it is widespread.”

The Smart Card project will follow these guidelines, as they appear on the IAEA website:

  • Achieve consensus standards for recording of patient exposure
  • Develop a methodology for achieving long-term records of patient exposure using off-line and on-line methods of data handling, transfer and management
  • Develop guidelines, norms, disclaimers, manuals and regulatory frameworks with regard to security issues
  • Develop a system for cumulative recording at both patient and central levels.

For more information, visit the following websites:

Radiological Protection of Patients

The International Atomic Energy Agency News Centre