Public looks to regulators to sort out CT scan issues

Buyer beware is an instinctive reaction to questions raised about full-body CT scans performed on people with no signs of health troubles.

But when it comes to our health, it's far more difficult to guard against those who might take advantage of us than it is in the average consumer transaction. What price peace of mind?

That's where regulations and their enforcement come into play. We rely on them to protect us against acts that can do us more harm than good or cost us a lot of money for little or no benefit.

South Carolina health officials are investigating Cancer Check America, which began operating on Hilton Head Island about three months ago. Issues raised include whether scans were done without a doctor's prescription.

South Carolina's standards for CT scans makes sense. Patients should be exposed to the minimum amount of radiation required to produce images of good diagnostic quality. Medical-imaging equipment is to be used under the direction and supervision of a licensed practitioner and by prescription.

Dr. Paul Long of Hilton Head says he reviewed "every chart and wrote a prescription for every patient" scanned. But four people interviewed by The Island Packet say they were scanned without consultation or referral from a physician beforehand.

The investigation in South Carolina came after regulators here learned of the company's link to a similar operation in Colorado. The Colorado imaging company, Heart Check America, closed after regulators determined only 5 percent of its clientele had been referred by doctors -- a requirement in Colorado -- and it was being supervised by a doctor whose license had lapsed, according to Colorado health department records.

We will count on our regulators to sort out exactly what happened here and whether South Carolina regulations were adhered to.

One question is the degree of separation between the company marketing the service and the company that owned and operated the medical-imaging equipment.

Cancer Check America sales manager David Haddad said the company rented from Atlantic Radiology Associates of Savannah. Atlantic Radiology operates Advanced Imaging, which performed scans for Cancer Check America after being prescribed by Long.

Charles Ditmer, an official with the S.C. Bureau of Radiological Health, said Cancer Check America is not registered to perform medical scans in the state, but Advanced Imaging is registered and has approval from the state to operate a CT scanner. Haddad says Cancer Check America doesn't have to register with South Carolina because it uses Advanced Imaging's equipment.

That seems to skip a potentially important step in state oversight -- knowing by whom and how medical services are offered.

State officials were tight-lipped after inspecting the Cancer Check America site last week. That's not unusual on matters like this.

But state officials should not leave the public hanging about their findings. The public should get a full report. That's important for the patients and for those involved in the company's operations. If they've done nothing wrong, we should know.

But if something was amiss, we need to know that, too. Education is key to guarding against being taken advantage of, especially when it comes to our or a loved one's health. A healthy dose of skepticism could be just what the doctor ordered.