Research aims to reduce side effects from diagnostic tests

PhD candidate Louise Burton is carrying out a study that aims to reduce the potential for side effects from radiation in diagnostic imaging tests, such as x-rays and CT scans. She presented her ongoing work at the recent EMDoc (East Midlands Doctoral Network) Conference and won the best oral presentation. Louise, also a postgraduate Teaching Assistant at the University, describes her study.

Do the benefits outweigh the risk?

Before being sent for an imaging test, patients should have an informed consent discussion to ensure that it is clinically justified. This means that the benefits of the procedure should outweigh the potential risk. Every dose of radiation, no matter how small, carries a risk, and these can range from cataracts to cancer.

There are over 3.6 billion diagnostic tests carried out annually, worldwide. So even a small percentage of unjustified examinations has a huge potential for unnecessary opportunities for side effects.

Non-medical referrers (NMR) are a well-established, critical part of the NHS. These advanced practitioners are expanding their clinical roles and responsibilities, which may include referring patients for imaging. However, there has been no research carried out in the UK regarding them. I am doing a qualitative study to look at their knowledge level, the training they have undertaken – and their opinions .

The main aim of the study is to look at improving training and knowledge. This will help non-medical referrers make the best choice with the lowest amount of radiation, reducing the potential for these side effects.

The results and recommendations also have the potential to be implemented world-wide, wherever radiation is used. However, I am hoping to start slightly smaller and look at the possibility to standardising training for non-medical referrers in the UK.

My experience

I qualified as a diagnostic radiographer back in 1999 from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. After graduation, I moved to London and worked at several hospitals, including Great Ormond Street Childrens’ Hospital. I moved through the ranks quickly and gained postgraduate qualifications in forensics, teaching along with appendicular and axial reporting. This mean that, for certain examinations, I make the official diagnosis rather than the patient being sent to a consultant.

I started my PhD as the result of a serendipitous event, and I have absolutely landed on my feet. The University of Derby is incredible with some amazing facilities. It’s an absolute pleasure to teach here. You can see that a lot of investment has gone into not only my department but the University as a whole. I found that there is such a welcoming feel from the moment you walk through the entrance.

In all my dealings with staff here from the Vice Chancellor to the catering team, they have been incredibly friendly and willing to help. I must say a special thank you to my supervisory team, Dr Bill Whitehead (deputy dean HPSC), Emma Hyde (head of diagnostic imaging) and Andy Rogers (honorary lecturer and RPA) for their unfailing support through an incredibly tough couple of years.

A huge honour

The East Midlands Doctoral Network (EMDoc) is made up of nine universities within the region. Together they are committed to sharing best practice, resources, and insights into postgraduate research. They also provide opportunities for student collaboration and networking.

The EMDoc conference is open to all doctoral students from the nine universities. There were numerous presentations over the two-day conference on a huge range of topics. To win best oral presentation is a huge honour. I had entered the three-minute-thesis competition (3MT), where entrants have to condense a nine hour thesis (if read) into three minutes. I won the Health, Psychology and Social Care College heat and came runner up in the university-level competition.

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