CoxHealth gets unwanted national coverage

Jeremy Elwood, SBJ Web EditorCoxHealth got a story in the New York Times today, but the mention is anything but positive.

The Springfield health system announced Wednesday that 76 patients receiving radiation treatment for specific types of hard-to-treat brain tumors and other conditions had received excessive amounts of radiation – sometimes 50 percent more than prescribed.

The error was the result of the hospital’s BrainLAB stereotactic treatment system, which uses high doses of targeted radiation to treat small areas of the brain and other organs with minimal damage to surrounding tissue. Hospital officials said the physicist who initially measured the strength of the radiation made a mistake in measurement.

Hospital leaders went on to say that at first, patients showed no ill effects from the excess dosage, but Cox will pay for any necessary follow-up treatments for affected patients. The hospital has contacted or is contacting all affected patients – or their families if the patient has since died, which is the case for more than half of patients subjected to the incorrect dosages. Most of the patients being treated with the system had poor prognoses even before treatment.

Cox has since closed the BrainLAB program to new patients while investigations continue.

The Times picked up on the story because it has been reporting on growing concerns across the country about radiation technology progressing too fast for medical experts to keep up with. It pointed to a similar situation in Florida, where a machine had been miscalibrated initially; in that case, technicians didn’t detect the mistake because they could only confirm that the radiation levels hadn’t changed since the first day the machine was in use.

One result of the situation is that Cox is supporting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “Initiative to Reduce Unnecessary Radiation Exposure from Medical Imaging.” Cox CEO Robert Bezanson sent a letter to the FDA supporting the initiative and asking the FDA to expand it to include regulation of medical radiation therapy. There are currently no federal regulations on radiation therapy, and most states – including Missouri – also have no regulations on the subject.

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