any U.S. Family Docs Unprepared for Bioterror Attack
Fri Sep 27, 5:27 PM ET
By Charnicia E. Huggins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - If a bioterrorist attack on the United States were to occur, primary care physicians would be among the first to respond, by identifying and caring for sick people and activating the public health system. Yet only one in four family physicians feel they have the necessary knowledge and skills to do so, recent study findings show.



"There is need for education opportunities for family physicians regarding their response to a suspected or real bioterrorism event," study author Dr. John M. Hickner told Reuters Health. Hickner is the director of the American Academy of Family Physicians ( news - web sites)' National Network for Family Practice and Primary Care Research.

This finding is based on a survey of 614 family physicians. The survey was conducted in October 2001, following the September 11th terrorist attacks and during the repeated anthrax scares in the United States.

Nearly all (95%) of the survey respondents agreed that "a bioterrorist attack is a real threat in the United States," Hickner and his colleagues report in the September issue of the Journal of Family Practice. And most doctors (96%) believed anthrax was the most likely biologic agent to be used.

Still, less than 30% of the doctors believed the US could effectively respond to such an attack and only about a quarter of the physicians said they would know what to do, study findings indicate.

"Most family physicians do not feel confident in dealing with a possible bioterrorism attack in their communities," Hickner said. "Most desire more education so that they will be able to confidently handle such situations."

Indeed, more than 90% of the physicians surveyed said they were interested in receiving training about how to respond to a bioterrorist attack, the researchers report.

Eighteen percent of the doctors said they had had bioterrorism preparedness training, however, and these physicians were nearly four times more likely to say they were prepared for a bioterrorist attack. They were also more than six times as likely as their peers to say they knew how to obtain information should a bioterrorist attack occur, study findings indicate.

Altogether, these findings are not at all surprising, according to the study author. "Family physicians' time and energy are consumed caring for patients with common medical problems, and occasional rare problems," Hickner said. "Most have never seen nor thought there was sufficient likelihood of a bioterrorism event to worry about the issue compared to many other competing priorities."

Now, however, since most doctors realize the likelihood of a bioterrorist attack and in light of the other findings, "physicians should be trained in how to identify and manage illness caused by biologic weapons, how to obtain information about bioterrorism quickly, and how to activate the public health system in the event of a suspected attack," Hickner and his colleagues conclude.

A grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality funded the study.

SOURCE: Journal of Family Practice 2002;51:745-750.

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