When we think of physicians, rarely do we think of the occupational health hazards they face – particularly physicians who perform life-saving interventional procedures such as coronary angioplasty, vascular surgery, and those involved in interventional radiology and electrophysiology. What all these medical specialties have in common is the use of ionizing radiation.
According to a white paper issued by ORSIF (the Organization for Occupational Radiation Safety in Interventional Fluoroscopy), there is a growing body of evidence on the adverse health effects of occupational exposures to ionizing radiation from interventional fluoroscopy. These health problems range from cataracts and thyroid disease to cardiovascular changes and brain cancer. Yet, there still is not enough awareness within the industry of this issue and the consensus is that not enough is being done by hospitals to protect fluoroscopy lab workers.
In order to generate more widespread awareness among the approximately 10,000 interventional physicians in the U.S. today (as well as the nurses and technicians assisting physicians in fluoroscopy labs) of the serious and at times, life-threatening illness linked to fluoroscopy exposure, it was important to put a human face to this issue. While doctors and nurses told of colleagues experiencing health problems linked to their work in fluoroscopy labs, it was rare to hear of victims telling their story in public. Dr. Edward Diethrich changed all of that.
Dr. Diethrich is a world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon and founder of the Arizona Heart Institute. Under his leadership, the Institute boasted a long list of firsts, including the first heart transplant performed in Phoenix as well as the first heart/lung transplant. He agreed to share his story in a 6-minute documentary, of health conditions he experienced such as cataracts and carotid stenosis, both of which he attributes to his work with ionizing radiation throughout his career. It was a diagnosis of a brain tumor however – an oligodendroglioma – that changed his life and provided compelling evidence of the harmful effects of occupational radiation exposure. As Dr. Diethrich put it, “it takes one’s level of interest in radiation-related health issues – and worry – to a different level.”
The documentary was posted on YouTube and embedded in a press release announcing its availability. To date, it has appeared on approximately 250 media websites reaching a total potential audience of more than 20 million, including trade publications focused on targeted medical specialties.
Social media also played a significant role in sparking conversations about interventional fluoroscopy and the health hazards linked to exposure, as well as identifying and fostering individual advocates of the cause, and generating awareness of ORSIF, an association created to raise awareness of the occupational health issues linked to fluoroscopy use and advocate for those who work in the interventional field.
The YouTube documentary was shared on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and also posted to the medicine/medical-specific page on Reddit.com. Just about 30-days later, the documentary received more than 86,000 social media hits. It also helped generate conversations about this issue, with posts from social media participants around the country. A few examples:
- “I was surprised to learn that radiation is atherogenic. This isn’t something I learned in medical school or training…”
- “Radiation exposure is an increasingly serious issue as more and more surgical and interventional techniques incorporate fluoroscopy. I wish more practitioners took it seriously.”
- “Thanks for the short. I’m an interventional cardiologist in Burlington, VT and have also taken up the issue of radiation exposure for our lab. I distributed this to all of our staff after I watched it.”
While there is still a way to go before serious action is taken by more hospitals to protect fluoroscopy lab workers, putting a human face to the issue has definitely generated a new level of awareness and action.