Category: Devices

Backscatter chatter

published date
December 13th, 2006 by

There’s been talk recently of using new “backscatter” machines for passenger screening to detect explosives and other dangerous items that a metal detector would miss. Most of the commentary has been about the threat to privacy, since the machines essentially look through your clothes. That’s to be dealt with by degrading the images to a certain extent.

I’m not too worried about privacy. After all, how much privacy and dignity do we really have left at airport checkpoints these days any way. On the other hand, backscatter is produced by radiation. In other words passengers will be going through X-ray machines. Patients are getting exposed to some alarmingly high doses of radiation from CT without anyone taking notice, so I wondered about the effects of backscatter on frequent fliers like me who might go through them hundreds of times every year.

I got some reassurance from a Health Physics Society article, which reports that it would take 200 screening scans in one year to reach the federally-defined Negligible Individual Dose. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers it safe to hit at least 25 times this number, or 5000 scans per year.

Meanwhile Rapiscan, a maker of backscatter systems, says each full-body scan is equivalent to what a person gets in five minutes from background environmental radiation.

I’m not an expert on this topic but from what I’ve read so far I’m not as alarmed as I thought I might be.

In case having prostate cancer wasn’t bad enough

published date
December 1st, 2006 by

In case having prostate cancer wasn’t bad enough

If you’re unlucky enough to get prostate cancer, you’d at least expect your doctor to help arrange the best possible treatment plan for you. However, some urologists may be a little more interested in boosting reimbursement for themselves than in making life easier and better for their patients. They’re using I.M.R.T., a radiation therapy that can result in payments of up to $47,000, which is far higher than for other methods. According to the New York Times:

Helping drive the trend is a Texas company, Urorad Healthcare, which sells complete packages of I.M.R.T. technology and services, and hopes to persuade even more urologists to buy them.
“Join the Urorad team and let us show your group how Urorad clients double their practice’s revenue,” the company says in a marketing pitch to doctors on its Web site.
Urologists who have purchased the new multiple beam systems say they are embracing a superior way to treat prostate cancer. But because there is little research directly comparing I.M.R.T. with the other treatments, there is little consensus among urologists about which approach is best…

Compared with seed implants, for example, I.M.R.T. involves a large time commitment, requiring patients to visit a radiation center 45 times over the course of nine weeks.

One thing that particularly concerns me is those patients who will be pushed into IMRT when they might be better off with no treatment at all.

Back to the future (without realizing it)

published date
November 16th, 2006 by

Back to the future (without realizing it)

From the Wall Street Journal (Putting Airbags in the Air)

With tougher safety standards for airplane cabins looming on the horizon, the aviation industry is turning to a tried-and-true technology from the family car: air bags…

We’ve long understood the benefits of air bags in vehicles,” says John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board who participated in industry-government studies about aviation applications. “Now, we finally have the chance to see how well they work on airplanes.”

Apparently the reporter didn’t realize that air bags actually were developed for airplanes in the first place. I give it a 70% chance we will see a letter to the editor published on the topic.

Blown Away

published date
November 9th, 2006 by

Blown Away

Using a regular blow dryer, or better yet a modified one called the LouseBuster, does a better job of killing lice and destroying their eggs than chemicals or combing. The blow dryers seem to dry out the lice, killing them. It’s not the type of treatment that lice are likely to evolve resistance to, either. I’m happy about the results, because I’m against hysterical anti-lice policies.

The best blow drying technique, according to MedPage Today was to use the LouseBuster:

The most effective hot-air method was the LouseBuster machine, invented by some of the researchers, in combination with a coarse comb attachment on the hose. It delivered twice the air volume of a handheld hair dryer and eradicated significantly more lice and eggs than comb control.

The authors have filed patents on the LouseBuster, so I’m not sure we can completely trust this research. I also found the discontinuation statistics interesting:

  • 2% among the 54 patients tested with the bonnet-style dryer,
  • 4% in the 26 participants treated with the handheld blow dryer using hair divided into 10 sections,
  • 4% among the 27 children treated with the handheld blow dryer and hair in 20 sections,
  • 13% of the 15 children treated with the wall-mounted dryer, and
  • 0% in both of the 18-patient LouseBuster groups.

I’m guessing users of the LouseBuster weren’t allowed to give up!

ICE is cool but primitive

published date
October 19th, 2006 by

ICE is cool but primitive

When rescuers or emergency room personnel want to contact next of kin, they have a tool that wasn’t there in the past: cell phones. Many patients have cell phones, and those phones often contain directories of phone numbers. However it’s often hard to figure out who to call. Spouses are often listed by name instead of relationship, “Mom” might have Alzheimer’s of be a code name for someone’s drug dealer, and so on.

ICE stands for “In Case of Emergency.” The idea, which seems to have gained popularity from last year’s London bombings, is to put ICE in front of emergency contact names. For example, “Mom” becomes “ICE Mom,” making it easy to figure out whom to call. It sounds like a good idea, and a simple one.

It would also be nice to have one’s full or partial medical record on the phone. Maybe it would be a good idea to include a listing that says ICE Medical Records and then have an entry with important info (like allergies or chronic conditions if the phone allows text fields) or an 800 number that has access to the patient’s personal health record. It could also be a number that returns the patient’s PHR info in response to a text message. Handset makers could even include an ICE button.

There is a bit of a problem for people like me who use voice dialing. If I add ICE in front of frequently called names I’ll have to say “ICE Mom” or “ICE John” instead of just Mom or John. However a way around that could be to make duplicate entries, one with ICE in front and other not. They can have the same phone numbers associated with them.

I think I’ll give it a try. Now, we just need to make sure people know to check for it.