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Doctors ill-prepared to diagnose, treat bioterrorism diseases


But Online Training Can Greatly Improve Physician Readiness
Johns Hopkins press release
September 26, 2005

More than one-half of 631 physicians tested were unable to correctly diagnose diseases caused by agents most likely to be used by bioterrorists, such as smallpox, anthrax, botulism and plague, according to a Johns Hopkins study published in the Sept. 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

However, test scores improved dramatically for the same physicians after they completed an online training course in diagnosing and managing these diseases caused by bioterrorism agents, according to the Hopkins research team, led by Stephen Sisson, M.D., assistant professor of medicine.

“The Internet offers many resources on bioterrorism training, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website as well as the Hopkins’ curriculum, and physicians who want to be prepared should take the initiative to familiarize themselves with this information,” Sisson noted.

“Most American physicians in practice today have never seen any cases of these diseases in their practice,” explained Sara Cosgrove, M.D., M.S., a faculty member in Hopkins’ Division of Infectious Diseases. “Preparation will be key to dealing with a major catastrophe, such as a major bioterrorist attack. Education and training healthcare providers in disease recognition, treatment and prevention strategies have the potential to significantly limit the effects of a bioterrorism attack.”

In the study, 631 physicians at 30 internal medicine residency programs in 16 states and Washington, D.C. were tested on how to recognize and treat bioterrorism-related diseases before and after taking an online course in bioterrorism disease. On the pretest, correct diagnosis of diseases due to bioterrorism agents was smallpox, 50.7 percent; anthrax, 70.5 percent; botulism, 49.6 percent; and plague, 16.3 percent (average 46.8 percent), the researchers report. Correct diagnosis averaged 79.0 percent after completion of the course. Correct management of smallpox in the pretest was 14.6 percent; anthrax, 17.0 percent; botulism, 60.2 percent; and plague 9.7 percent (average 25.4 percent). Correct management averaged 79.1 percent after course completion.

Other Hopkins researchers involved in the study include Trish Perl, M.D., M.Sc., associate professor of medicine and pathology and hospital epidemiologist, and Xiaoyan Song, M.D., assistant professor of medicine.

This is a modified press release from Johns Hopkins Medicine. The original version is available here

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