Web site helps physicians diagnose smallpox, anthrax

HHS advises hospitals to include site in plans

A web site sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in Rockville, MD, is being expanded to help 265,000 primary care physicians across the country learn how to diagnose and treat rare infections and exposures to bioterror agents such as smallpox and anthrax.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson advises hospital leaders to include the web site in their emergency preparedness response plans, mandated by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. He says the web site is an important tool to help physicians identify rare infections that also could be potential bioterrorist threats.

"Expanding the web site to allow more doctors to access this critical information is an essential part of the nation’s bioterrorism preparedness activities," he says.

When it was launched in January, the web site was the first of its kind to offer free continuing education credits in bioterrorism preparedness to 50,000 hospital-based clinicians. An additional $400,000 in funding is being made available to expand the web site’s educational modules and make them accessible to an additional 265,000 office-based internists, family physicians, pediatricians, and dermatologists, bringing to 315,000 the total number of clinicians who can use the site.

Designed by researchers in the Center for Disaster Preparedness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham under a contract from AHRQ, the site currently offers five on-line courses for hospital emergency department physicians, nurses, radiologists, pathologists, and infection control practitioners.

Carolyn Clancy, MD, AHRQ acting director, says the courses cover identification of potential bioterror agents and commonly associated syndromes, including smallpox and anthrax.

"Expanding the evidence-based information for primary care physicians is an important step to help doctors be better prepared in the event of another bioterrorist attack," Clancy says. "This project is one of several in AHRQ’s bioterrorism research portfolio that will help clinicians be ready to respond to these potential public health threats."

During the web site’s first four months of operation, there were more than 580,000 visits to the site and more than 700 providers earned continuing education credits. Currently, there is no cost to take the courses, and each offers one hour of continuing education credit. The web address is www.bioterrorism.uab.edu.