Many trauma patients require implantable hardware for treatment of their orthopedic injuries. One of the concerns they frequently raise is whether this will cause a problem at TSA airport screening checkpoints (Transportation Safety Administration).
The answer is probably “yes.” About half of implants will trigger the metal detectors, and these days that usually means a pat down search. And letters from the doctor don’t help. It turns out that overall, 38% are detected when the scanner is set to low sensitivity and 52% at high sensitivity.
Here is a more detailed breakdown:
- Lower extremity hardware is detected 10 times more often than upper extremity or spine implants
- 90% of total knee and total hip replacements are detected
- Upper extremity implants such as shoulder, wrist and radial head replacements are rarely detected
- Plates, screws, IM nails, and wires usually escape detection
- Cobalt-chromium and titanium implants trigger alarms more often than stainless steel
If your patient knows that their implant triggers the detectors, they have two options: request a patdown search, or volunteer to go through the full body millimeter wave scanner. This device looks at everything from the skin outwards, and will not “see” the implant and is probably the preferred choice. If they choose to go through the metal detector and trigger it, they are required to have a patdown. Choosing to go through the body scanner after setting off the detector is no longer an allowed option.
Reference: Detection of orthopaedic implants in vivo by enhanced-sensitivity, walk-through metal detectors. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2007 Apr;89(4):742-6.