Close call: CDC has a direct line for clinicians

Hot line answers smallpox, SARS questions

Bioterrorism has changed the way the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention communicates with clinicians — for the better.

The CDC has created a range of resources for clinicians, ranging from webcasts and e-mail updates to targeted web sites. The agency started creating the resources last year as a way to provide more information about bioterrorism and smallpox vaccination. "[The Clinician Information Line] was initially set up to deal with clinicians who had questions about smallpox disease or the smallpox vaccine and also to help them get access to VIG [to treat severe adverse events]," says Dan Baden, MD, lead for the clinician communication team in the CDC’s Office of Communications. "If they have a patient with an adverse event, this is a portal for them to get access to CDC’s experts. That has now been expanded to include SARS."

Nurses respond to the information line 24/7, with answers to general questions about smallpox and smallpox vaccination. If consultation is required, the nurses will provide a response within 72 hours. In an emergency situation — if a provider thinks he or she may have a patient with smallpox, for example — the provider is connected to a CDC expert immediately, Baden says.

More than 33,000 clinicians have signed up with the CDC’s clinician registry to receive periodic e-mail updates. The CDC also has developed partnerships with 67 clinician organizations and conducts phone conferences with representatives at least once a month. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare, and the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses are all part of that network.

The CDC will continue to refine its clinician resources and will regularly offer on-line or webcast training programs, says Baden. The resources could be targeted toward new public health issues as needed, he adds.

"We want to find out what clinicians identify as their own needs and address those needs directly," he says.

[Editor’s note: The telephone number for the CDC Clinician Information Line for smallpox vaccination or SARS information is (877) 554-4625. To register for e-mail updates from the CDC, go to]