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Updated diagnostic reference levels for medical imaging

13 September 2021

ARPANSA has published updated diagnostic reference levels (DRLs) for medical imaging.

The Australian National DRLs provide guidance to clinics on the typical radiation doses received by average-sized patients during different types of medical imaging such as computed tomography (CT) scans.

Medical imaging facilities compare the median dose for a sample of their patients to the reference level for each procedure type. This comparison helps ensure radiation exposures are minimised, without sacrificing adequate image quality for effective diagnosis of disease and injury.

The national reference levels for CT were updated in March 2021 based on data from more than 370 medical imaging providers.

The process involved a review of dose data submitted in 2019 and update of reference levels for neck, cervical spine, and kidney-ureter-bladder (KUB) scans. KUB reference levels were previously based on earlier data for general abdominal scans but have now been refined based on data specifically for KUB scans. From 1 October 2021, accreditation assessors will be requiring sites to use the updated reference levels when undertaking comparisons.

‘The new reference levels show that, as expected, the actual doses being received by patients during these types of scans are lower than the reference levels published in 2018’, said Dr Peter Thomas, Director of Medical Imaging at ARPANSA.

‘This data helps the medical imaging community stay up to date with trends in exposure and provides a benchmark for continuous improvement.’

‘We’re thankful to all the clinics and providers who contribute their data to this project to ensure we can monitor radiation exposure and identify any areas of concern’, said Dr Thomas.

The new reference levels show that typical exposures to patients from CT scans are continuing to reduce as more efficient imaging techniques and technologies are developed and implemented.

The typical radiation doses from CT scans remain low.

More information on typical exposure levels for different medical imaging procedures can be found in the Current Australian diagnostic reference levels.

ARPANSA maintains an ongoing program to collect dose data from imaging providers for selected common procedures in CT and image-guided radiology.

A new data collection survey is about to commence for nuclear medicine. This data will contribute to the future update of diagnostic reference levels and help Australia continue to optimise medical radiological procedures and support patient safety.