Radiation is an important tool for treating and detecting diseases. Nonetheless, exposure levels should be kept as low as possible as radiation can also trigger unwanted biological changes in the body. Ionizing radiation can cause cellular mutations and/or cell death. In a tightly controlled therapy, this is good. When it is random or secondary exposure to someone other than the patient, it is bad.
The way it works is, ionizing radiation is emitted from an electromagnetic source. It then strips electrons from its atoms, which causes chemical changes to the molecules. Care must be taken when dealing with radiation, for if exposure to therapeutic radiation is too lengthy or intense, it can cause irreparable damage.
In-hospital isolation rooms used by patients treated with I131 can be particularly problematic. Due to the often high doses administered, combined with the extended contact the patient has with surfaces in the room, surface contamination is a big issue. Even when surfaces are covered with plastic wrap or paper, surfaces still tend to get contaminated.
The time and expense of preparing the room for patient use, as well as the time spent removing the protective plastic/paper can be extensive. Add to that the time spent decontaminating what the protective coverings didn’t stop, and it adds up to a lot of technologist time. This is time which could be spent on more productive tasks in the department.
Anything which can be done to reduce wasted technologist time means that the technologist can focus on more productive, revenue generating tasks for the department. Furthermore, reducing the time it takes to bring the isolation down to background levels can results in a reduction of patient backlogs.
It has been shown that by placing a decontaminating hand/body soap in the patient room and instructing them to wash their hands frequently with this soap, as well as use it in the shower, results in less contamination being spread in the room. This translates into less technologist time spent cleaning the room.
Additionally, the less contaminated the room is, the less the technologist will be exposed secondary radiation during the cleanup process. This is particularly important with I131 and it’s high energy beta emissions.
In today’s healthcare environment, productivity is the mandate. Reducing technologist time spent cleaning can lead to a direct increase in the time they have for productive tasks, such as patient scans. Increased productivity directly benefits the department and the hospital as a whole.
In healthcare, contaminated surfaces are the number one cause of accidental exposure to residual radiation. In fact, studies show that a typical healthcare professional working with radiation patients and surfaces has hands that are likely covered with trace amounts of radiation. Hence, reducing contamination in hospital isolation rooms is essential to lowering the amount of radiation that patients and healthcare workers are exposed to.
Several official guidelines exist that are designed to ensure that radiation contamination levels are kept in accordance with ALARA regulations. ALARA stands for “As Low as Reasonably Achievable.” It refers to taking every measure necessary to ensure that exposure to radiation is kept well below acceptable dosage limits. Listed below are the aforementioned ALARA guidelines:
1. Wear protective coats – This will minimize the chance that personal clothing becomes contaminated.
2. Check incoming packages and surfaces for contamination – There should be standard procedure enacted where all packages that either enter or leave are thoroughly checked for contamination.
3. Use latex gloves – Latex gloves can help limit the amount of radiation that one can be exposed to in an isolation room. They should be used when dealing with any contaminants. Late gloves should also be removed and replaced continuously throughout the day.
4. Employ lead materials – Using lead lined storage containers, lead lined waste bins, and lead bricks will help reduce contamination and chronic contamination to hazardous materials.
5. Use syringe shields – The use of syringe shields will help lower contamination, and they work hand-in-hand with latex gloves. Additionally, decontaminating the syringe shields help eliminate cross-contamination and contamination of the skin. They will also eliminate the direct exposure to the source of radiation.
6. Use decontamination soap – Daily use of decontamination soap will remove low levels of contaminants that may not be detected by hand monitors.
7. Refrain from consuming foodstuffs – Never eat, drink, or chew gum in or around contaminants.
8. Keep a safe distance from spills – Quickly move away from the source of contamination should an accidental spill occur. Maintaining a safe distance from the contamination source can reduce or completely protect from its effects.
In short, radiation is a powerful therapeutic tool, and when it’s not handled with care it can also be a dangerous one. When working in radiation areas, be sure to observe ALARA guidelines at all times for your patients, your coworkers, and your own health and safety.
Call (800) 542-1123 or visit www.labtechinc.com to learn more about reducing radiation contamination in a hospital isolation room.