Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration announced a new initiative to increase the safety of imaging devices that use radiation, like CT scans. This came about because of a New York Times investigation detailing horrifying cases of patients being given overdoses of radiation when going in for routine scans. Hospitals are employing incredibly powerful equipment that can -- and has -- killed people if used incorrectly. The machinery sometimes lacks systems that would prevent these deaths, like an alarm telling the technician when they're about to deliver an overdose of radiation.
Regular readers will know by now that I think it's important to draw attention to the times when the government is doing its job, and we all need that job to be done. Whatever the limitations of the Obama administration's legislative record (so far), we should remember that if nothing else, they have staffed the executive branch with people who believe that regulatory agencies ought to, you know, regulate. This is a marked contrast with what happens in Republican administrations, in which we have come to expect that the people in charge of those agencies will be committed to the idea that they shouldn't fulfill their missions, and that regulation is inherently bad.
This story also reminds us of the importance of investigative reporting, an increasingly endangered species in American journalism. Unfortunately, investigations like the one the Times undertook are time-consuming, extremely expensive, and offer little ultimate payoff beyond the admiration of one's journalistic peers and the possibility of a Pulitzer -- lots of prestige, but not much in the way of cash. They're also absolutely vital.
When this story broke, I was curious about why a doctor would ever order a CT scan, which uses radiation, and is therefore potentially dangerous, instead of an MRI scan, which uses magnets and therefore doesn't pose the same risk. So I e-mailed a friend of mine who is a neurologist and asked him. He sent me a fascinating reply, which not only answered that question, but also offered a vivid look into why medical care is so incredibly expensive. It's after the jump.
-- Paul Waldman
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