One unexpected result of the COVID-19 crisis is that I am seeing the best radiation safety and ALARA practices that I’ve experienced in years. Why is that? In short, our newfound interest in social distancing has highlighted the importance of tried-and-true “time, distance, and shielding” principles.
Before the pandemic, it was common to see technologists show a solid understanding of ALARA and a desire to mitigate radiation exposure prior to injecting the patient. They utilize the L-Shield with many lead bricks lining the outside, have a nice lead-lined carrying case for their doses, and of course, they always use their syringe shields.
However, once the patient was injected, and became the source of the radiation, good practices went out the door. It’s as if the radiation went away. After injection, technologists would spend too much time next to the patient, and they no longer placed a priority on limiting their distance or time spent with radioactive patients.
But not now.
As a result of the coronavirus, I have observed technologists practicing excellent “Social Distancing” thereby reducing radiation exposure. This is the way ALARA was designed to work.
Today, technologists are more mindful of their time and are being as efficient as possible while working with radiation and patients. They are keeping a good distance between themselves and the patient, while also being aware of other patients in the vicinity. Finally, they have a new appreciation for PPE and how important it can be.
ALARA: Time, Distance and Shielding
The core concept behind ALARA centers on time, distance, and shielding. These three areas are what can keep radiation exposure “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.”
Time: Minimize your time near a radioactive source. This principle applies to the radioactive material before injection and the patient after injection. Remember that the patient is the “source” of radiation after an injection!
Distance: By increasing the distance between you and the radiation source, you will reduce exposure by the square of the distance. Doubling the distance will reduce the radiation exposure by a factor of 4.
Shielding: Use PPE and high-density materials such as lead to reduce exposure as much as possible.
While we all regret the circumstances, improved adherence to ALARA standards is making a positive difference. Let’s hope that these lessons learned continue long after the immediate risk of COVID-19 fades away.