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Radiology Tech Loses License Over Benadryl

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The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ordered that radiology technician Kenneth Harrison have his license suspended for two years for administering Benadryl to a patient without a doctor’s authority.

According to the court’s decision, filed May 26, here’s what happened:

In June 2008, Harrison was scanning a patient (court documents don’t specify the type of scan) at the West Virginia University Hospitals (WVUH) in Morgantown. He administered a contrast agent, then realized that the patient was allergic to the agent. He said the patient broke out in hives, began hiccuping, and then experienced respiratory distress.

Another radiology technician, Ronna Shaneyfelt, paged Mithra Kimyai-Asadi, MD, the radiology resident on call. Harrison said, according to the decision:

The radiology resident on call failed to respond to his co-worker’s page in a timely manner.

So he intravenously administered 50 mg of Benadryl to the patient. Everyone agrees that was the appropriate medical response. The question is whether Harrison had the authority to make that response on his own, without waiting for Dr. Kimyai-Asadi.

Darlene Headley, director of the WVUH radiology department, said no. In a July 2, 2008, letter, she told the West Virginia Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy Technology Board of Examiners that WVUH had fired Harrison “for working outside of the scope of practice for a radiologic technologist at WVUH.”

The board said he had violated state law. On September 25, 2009, it hit Harrison with a two-year license suspension followed by three years of probation.

Harrison appealed. Monongalia County Circuit Judge Phillip Gaujot reversed the license suspension, saying that no law, code, or policy expressly prohibited Harrison’s action. Maybe so, responded the Supreme Court, but no law, code,or policy expressly allowed it either. So the Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court and upheld the suspension.

The testimony of Shaneyfelt, Harrison’s fellow radiology tech, contradicted Harrison’s depiction of the situation as an emergency. Shaneyfelt said the patient had just two or three hives on his neck, did not seem to be in distress, and did not appear to have respiratory issues. She asked the patient if he was OK, and he nodded affirmatively, she said.

And, according to the court’s decision:

Ms. Shaneyfelt testified that Dr. Kimyai-Asadi returned the page and arrived on the scene all within ‘a matter of no more than five minutes’ from the time she was first paged.

Maybe the most significant statement about the situation is contained in the imaging board’s appeal to the Supreme Court: “Respondent further stated in his response that he ‘panicked’ and ran to get the Benadryl.” Unfortunately, that moment of panic cost him his job and license.

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