Report demonstrates safety of nuclear medicine procedures

January 18, 2006

A report from the United States Pharmacopeia--the official public standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the-counter medicines and other health care products manufactured and sold in the United States--demonstrates just how safe nuclear medicine procedures are for today's patients.

"The number of errors voluntarily reported for nuclear medicine in this comprehensive analysis--resulting from environmental, situational or organizations factors--is exceptionally low," noted Society of Nuclear Medicine President Peter S. Conti, M.D., Ph.D., professor of radiology, clinical pharmacy and biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

"A Chartbook of 2000-2004 Findings From Intensive Care Units and Radiological Services" provides a comprehensive analysis of medication error records voluntarily reported by 315 medical facilities, representing about 10 percent of U.S. acute care hospitals, explained Robert E. Henkin, M.D., former director of nuclear medicine at the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill. "We agree with the USP findings and are pleased that nuclear medicine procedures--such as positron emission tomography (PET) scans to diagnose and monitor treatment in cancer, cardiac stress tests to analyze heart function, bone scans for orthopedic injuries and lung scans for blood clots--continue to be safely prescribed, transcribed, dispensed and administered," said Henkin, who also heads SNM's Committee on Health Care Policy and Practice.

USP's findings are part of its sixth annual report on medication errors reported to MEDMARX, its national medication error and adverse drug reaction reporting program, designed for use in hospitals and health systems. The report focuses on three clinical areas--nuclear medicine, cardiac catheterization labs and radiology departments--and intensive care units for the five-year period from 2000 to 2004.

The report indicates that four nuclear medicine patients were affected by dispensing errors--such as being administered the wrong radiopharmaceutical or receiving an improper dose--and no patient suffered permanent injury. Given the participant information provided in the report, "the results would indicate that approximately 40 errors might be made in 20 million nuclear medicine procedures," said Henkin. "This is an incredibly small figure--so small as to be of questionable statistical significance," he added. Henkin, who has more than 30 years experience in nuclear medicine, said published data have indicated the error rate for this medical specialty is about .01 percent. In addition, Edward B. Silberstein, M.D., a member of SNM's Radiopharmaceutical and Pharmacopeia committees who is with University Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, has cited two to three adverse events per 100,000 nuclear medicine procedures and no errors in more than 70,000 injections performed in conjunction with PET scans in two nationwide studies published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

Conti--who as SNM president represents more than 16,000 physician, technologist and scientist members--Henkin and Silberstein believe the report does demonstrate the need for increased communication among hospital departments, particularly as patients are transferred from one to another. "SNM would like to work with U.S. Pharmacopeia in the future and further define any issues that affect patients," said Henkin.

Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials (radiopharmaceuticals) along with imaging scans to diagnose, manage and treat disease. Nuclear medicine/molecular imaging procedures are an invaluable way to gather medical information that would otherwise be unavailable, require surgery or necessitate more expensive diagnostic tests. Daily, about 55,000 women, men and children benefit from medical imaging technologies in this country. Nearly all hospitals, as well as many clinics and private doctors' offices, perform nuclear medicine tests and scans.
About the Society of Nuclear Medicine
The Society of Nuclear Medicine is an international scientific and professional organization of more than 16,000 members dedicated to promoting the science, technology and practical applications of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging to diagnose, manage and treat diseases in women, men and children. Founded more than 50 years ago, SNM continues to train physicians, technologists, scientists, physicists, chemists and radiopharmacists in state-of-the-art imaging procedures and advances; provide essential resources for health care practitioners and patients; publish the most prominent peer-reviewed resource in the field of nuclear and molecular imaging: The Journal of Nuclear Medicine; sponsor research grants, fellowships and awards; and host the premier nuclear medicine annual meeting. SNM members have introduced--and continue to explore--biological and technological innovations in medicine that noninvasively investigate the molecular basis of diseases, benefiting countless generations of patients. SNM is based in Reston, Va.; additional information can be found online at

Society of Nuclear Medicine

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