Patients' stories

Now I Know I Didn’t Need all That X-ray Radiation

Now I Know I Didn’t Need all That X-ray Radiation

I have periodic flare-ups of diverticulitis, with symptoms that make for an easy diagnosis. My condition has recurred several times and, at my long-time doctor’s insistence, I have had an abdominal CT scan each time, despite the fact that the diagnosis is simple and treatment simpler—a bland diet, along with two antibiotics, twice a day, for two weeks­.

With that in mind, you can imagine my alarm when I recently learned through the Choosing Wisely campaign that an abdominal CT scan is one of the higher radiation exposure X-rays, and that it’s equivalent to three years of natural background radiation. Recommendations state that they should not be repeated unless there is a major change in symptoms or clinical findings.

Armed with that knowledge when my condition recently flared up again and my doctor again insisted on a CT, I was also armed with the Choosing Wisely Fact Sheet. Sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association, the Fact Sheet includes links to over 20 reputable sites, confirming that combining dietary changes with antibiotics is the preferred first line of defense.

During that conversation with my doctor I started asking myself, “Should it have been my doctor’s responsibility to bring this to my attention (providers do no harm)? Or should I have been more alert about the risks and benefits (consumers be aware)?” I believe it should be a combination of the two, with the greatest pressure exerted on doctors who are expected to consider what is best for the patient.

Flash forward to two antibiotics and two weeks later. Not only was I as good as new, I avoided unnecessary radiation risk—and a hefty expense of nearly $1,000. I also took extra time to call four pharmacies to compare prices for the antibiotics I needed, and was shocked to discover they ranged from $7.50 to nearly $90!

In the end, I’m not sure my doctor was utterly pleased with my uncharacteristically assertive behavior, but I know I’m glad to be feeling well, while also feeling more confident in my ability to have constructive, two-way conversations about my health and health care.

Jean H., Minnesota

Here are more questions to ask about imaging tests.