New study finds major shortcomings in hospital readiness for radiological terrorism
The findings of a new study published today in the American Medical Association's
(AMA) Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness journal found that emergency
department physicians and nurses are deeply concerned about the ability of the
nation's hospitals to deal with the medical implications of a radioactive dirty
bomb or other terrorist attacks involving radioactive materials.
"Hospital emergency departments will play a crucial role in the
response to any terrorist attack involving radioactive materials," said
study lead author Steven M. Becker, PhD, Associate Professor of Public Health,
and Vice Chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, at the
University of Alabama at Birmingham. "In fact, it is no exaggeration
to say that the actions of hospitals will be central to the success or failure
of efforts to manage a radiological terrorism attack and its health consequences."
Researchers conducted a series of 10 focus groups with emergency department
physicians and nurses in hospitals in three U.S. regions – southeast,
northeast and the west. Study participants discussed a hypothetical "dirty
bomb" scenario and the treatment of patients affected by such an attack.
Participants consistently expressed the view that medical professionals, emergency
departments, and hospital facilities are not sufficiently prepared to respond
effectively to a radiological attack. Key concerns of physicians and nurses
include the possibility of the hospital being overwhelmed with patients, safety
of loved ones, potential staff shortages, risks for hospital personnel, and
a general lack of familiarity with radiation safety and treatment issues.
The study, which was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), provides new insights into physician and nurse concerns and viewpoints,
and reveals major preparedness challenges. These challenges must be addressed
if hospitals and the nation are to successfully face current and future threats.
"The study has clear implications for medical preparedness and response,"
said Dr. Becker. "There is a need for increased information and training
on managing radiological events, protecting staff, and treating affected patients.
Likewise, there is a need for increased access to informational resources,
such as specialized professional hotlines, pocket guides, posters and toolkits.
In addition, physicians' and nurses' concerns for loved ones need to be better
taken into account in preparedness planning to prevent a potential shortage
of health care providers."
Additional articles in the October issue of the AMA Disaster Medicine and Public
Health Preparedness journal include:
* "Participatory Action Research Methodology in Disaster
Research: Results from the World Trade Center Evacuation Study"
* "Seeking Help for Disaster Services After a Flood"
(published ahead of print on July 2, 2008)
* "Recommendations for Postexposure Interventions to Prevent
Infection with Hepatitis B Virus, Hepatitis C Virus, or Human Immunodeficiency
Virus, and Tetanus in Persons Wounded During Bombings and Other Mass-Casualty
Events" (co-published with the CDC ahead of AMA disaster
journal print on Aug. 1, 2008)
* "Emergency Medical Consequence Planning and Management for
National Special Security Events after 9-11: Boston, 2004"
(published ahead of print on Aug. 20, 2008)