Improving patient experience

Light and Shadow

How we learned to rein in the risks of X-rays

Manuel Schusser
Published on September 1, 2021

In 2010, the Dutch radiologist Gerrit Kemerink X-rayed a hand at Maastricht University Medical Center. There wouldn’t normally be anything unusual about that – except that this was the hand of a dead body and Kemerink was using an X-ray unit from 1896.

Recorded in a darkened room, the images turned out “surprisingly well” and offered a clear depiction of the hand’s anatomical details. However, his measurements during the examination using the historical apparatus indicated a radiation dose of 75 mSv, which is 1,500 times that of a comparable examination with modern equipment. In those days, capturing just a single X-ray image resulted in 75 times the recommended annual dose for a normal person today. This highlights the fact that early operators and patients were exposing themselves to enormous doses in a very short space of time. It was a far cry from our current knowledge of X-rays and their responsible use.

Vergleich der beiden Handaufnahmen aus dem Experiment von Gerrit Kemerink. Links mit dem Apparat von 1896, rechts mit einem modernen Röntgenapparat von 2010
Transportable Röntgeneinrichtung mit offen hängender Röhre, 1903
Sogenannte Röntgenhände

Early X-ray damage to the hands of the 28-year-old RGS employee Otto Schreiber in an image taken in 1910 

Überwachungssoftware an modernen Computertomographen helfen die Untersuchung zu optimieren, um die Strahlendosis so niedrig wie möglich zu halten. 2017

Manuel Schusser
Manuel Schusser
By Manuel Schusser

Expert for History Communication and Historian at the Siemens Healthineers Historical Institute