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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Radiation-Emitting Products

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During the annual physics survey, how must the medical physicist test AEC performance and what action limits apply?

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Due to the proliferation of mammography units with multiple AEC modes, testing of AEC performance has become more complex in recent years. When units had only one AEC detector, a single AEC mode, and a single target-filter combination, testing was relatively straightforward. That is no longer the case for most units. The following guidance is designed to help medical physicists adequately test a unit’s AEC performance without over-testing the unit.

During the annual physics survey, the physicist can limit testing of AEC performance to the contact configuration. To fulfill MQSA requirements, all AEC detectors (that can be individually selected by the operator) and all AEC modes used clinically over the 2 to 6 cm range in the contact configuration must be tested. While there are several ways to do the test, medical physicists who use the following guidance will have fulfilled this requirement. Note: Facilities that do not clinically use their AEC in the 2 to 6 cm range (only use manual techniques) must still test the AEC to ensure that at least one AEC mode for each available AEC detector meets the regulatory requirements.

In order to minimize sources of variability, the physicist should use a single cassette (or same cassette type), film from the same emulsion batch, and the same processing conditions throughout Steps 1 and 2 below (see question # 6 below).

Step 1: Determine the Mean Optical Density (MOD)

A) For an AEC detector used in the contact configuration, perform three exposures using 2, 4, and 6 cm thicknesses of a homogeneous material. The exposures are to be performed using an AEC mode clinically used at each of the thicknesses. For example, if a facility typically uses fixed kVp mode at 2 cm, fixed mA mode at 4 cm and OPDOSE mode at 6 cm, then the medical physicist should use these same modes at those thicknesses when conducting the AEC performance test. Note: Even if a facility clinically uses more than one AEC mode at a particular thickness, no more than one of the AEC modes should be tested at each thickness to establish the MOD. For example, if a facility clinically uses both the fixed kVp and the AOP CONTRAST modes at 2 cm, the medical physicist should use the more commonly used of these modes to determine the MOD.

B) Measure the optical density of the images obtained at 2, 4 and 6 cm (total of three images) and average them. This is your MOD.

Step 2: Determine if the AEC detector used in Step 1 is within the regulatory action limit of +/- 0.15 OD of the MOD

A) Check to see that all three of the optical densities obtained in Step 1B are within the action limit when compared to the MOD

B) If ALL three ODs are within the action limit AND no other AEC modes are clinically used in the 2 to 6 cm range, then this AEC detector has passed. The medical physicist then needs to repeat Steps 1 and 2 for each additional AEC detector clinically used in the 2 to 6 cm range (See question #5 for additional guidance on testing multiple AEC detectors).

C) If ALL three ODs are within the action limit AND the facility clinically uses an additional AEC mode(s) in the 2 to 6 cm range (other than the ones used to originally establish the MOD), the facility must test the additional AEC modes. The medical physicist needs to test EACH additional AEC mode(s) at any ONE clinically used thickness in the 2 to 6 cm range. If the OD(s) is within the action limit when compared to the MOD, then this AEC detector has passed. The medical physicist then needs to repeat Steps 1 and 2 for each additional AEC detector clinically used in the 2 to 6 cm range (See question #5 for additional guidance on testing multiple AEC detectors).

The medical physicist does not have to test the other clinically used equipment configurations during the annual physics survey, but will have to test these configurations whenever a mammography equipment evaluation involving the AEC is performed.

Back to Automatic Exposure Control (AEC) Performance Testing