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Hospitals are
not ready
for an incident

Major Shortcomings in Hospital Readiness for Radiological Terrorism

by Barbara Kram , Editor
CHICAGO - The findings of a new study published 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."

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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."
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