Physicians Ill-Prepared to Diagnose or Treat
By Gary Stephenson
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
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 study.
"Most American physicians in practice today have never
seen any cases of these diseases in their practice," said
Sara Cosgrove, an assistant professor in the School of
of Infectious Diseases. "Preparation will be key to
dealing with a major catastrophe, such as a major
bioterrorist attack. Education and training health care
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 before and after taking an online course in
bioterrorism disease on how to recognize and treat
bioterrorism-related diseases. 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, for an average of
46.8 percent, the researchers report. Correct diagnosis
averaged 79 percent after completion of the course. Correct
management of smallpox in the pretest was 14.6 percent;
anthrax, 17 percent; botulism, 60.2 percent; and plague 9.7
percent, for an average of 25.4 percent. Correct management
averaged 79.1 percent after course completion.
Other Johns Hopkins researchers involved in the study
are Stephen Sisson, Trish Perl and Xiaoyan Song.
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