A key question at most networking events that I attend is “What do you do?” My response of leading a “diagnostic medical physics consulting company” is often met with blank stares and glazed over responses.
While it isn’t shocking that your average Joe doesn’t know what a diagnostic medical physicist does, it is quite surprising that many people in the healthcare industry do not understand the role and importance of the diagnostic medical physicist.
At KGHP, we practice diagnostic medical physics (which includes nuclear medicine and health physics). This article is a primer for our clients and other people to understand what diagnostic medical physics is and why it is so important.
Why is diagnostic medical physics important in medicine?
Diagnostic imaging is an important part of our healthcare system. Whether it is an x-ray for a broken arm or wrist from a fall, or a nuclear medicine heart study, diagnostic imaging technology is a key diagnostic tool for doctors to diagnose disease without invasive procedures.
Given the large number of diagnostic imaging procedures done in the U.S. each year (close to half a billion), the safety and effectiveness of diagnostic imaging equipment and procedures are critically important to our health.
The American Association of Physicist in Medicine, which is the key trade association for medical physicists, states that “the essential responsibility of the [medical physicist] is to assure the safe and effective delivery of radiation to achieve a diagnostic or therapeutic result as prescribed in patient care.” Diagnostic medical physicists focus on diagnostic imaging quality, while therapeutic medical physicists (who have different education and certifications) focus on therapeutic treatments for cancer and other diseases.
The primary responsibilities of KGHP to its clients are (1) protecting patients and others from potentially harmful or excessive radiation; (2) ensuring appropriate image quality; (3) recommending necessary quality assurance programs; and (4) monitoring compliance with applicable federal and state regulations. Our equipment performance surveys and nuclear medicine audits are the primary tools we use to achieve these goals, but we may also be called for other services like patient dose estimates, equipment shielding protection plans and outsourced radiation safety officer services.
How do diagnostic medical physicists help patients?
Generally, state and accrediting body standards require periodic testing by a diagnostic medical physicist to ensure that machines are emitting appropriate amounts of radiation and demonstrate the required image quality. We all want the radiologist to have the best possible images and we want only the appropriate levels of radiation to be used during treatment. The medical physicist helps ensure that this happens.
As most of us know a loved one who has undergone an imaging procedure, wouldn’t you want only the best medical physicists testing the equipment and advising that facility? At KGHP, we have highly-trained physicists, most of whom hold masters and PhD level training in physics and have American Board of Radiology certifications. We conduct thousands of equipment surveys every year and have the expertise and knowledge to keep our clients’ patients safe.