CHICAGO – The American Medical Association (search) on Monday announced a new program that aims to standardize bioterrorism (search) training for doctors and others nationwide who respond to mass disasters.
The voluntary program is designed to create a single playbook or training manual for all hospitals, doctors, public health officials and military officials to avoid chaos and confusion if a large-scale disaster strikes.
Preparedness training is currently available on a more piecemeal basis without much consistency, said Dr. James James, director of the AMA's new Center for Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response, which is coordinating the program.
"We need to be thinking of standardization and what is required in terms of basic skills and knowledge to make our health care providers and physicians more ready," James said at a news conference in Chicago during the AMA's annual meeting.
The coursework was developed with input from the military and four medical institutions that will provide the training in person and eventually over the Internet.
Coursework will include subjects like how to decontaminate people exposed to biological or nuclear weapons and setting up triage systems for determining what type of immediate care victims need. It will also seek to ensure that all emergency response personnel understand and use the same medical terms and triage systems, which sometimes vary in military and civilian medicine, officials said.
Preparedness efforts for natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes also will be addressed.
The program "will significantly enhance our national security when it comes to acts of terrorism" and other mass disasters, said Jerome Hauer, who coordinates public health emergency preparedness at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (search).
With HHS oversight, the coursework is being developed by authorities from the University of Georgia, the Medical College of Georgia, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and the University of Texas at Houston.
The training will be offered as continuing medical education for physicians and for medical students. Development costs and fees for trainees are still being worked out, James said.
A pilot program ran earlier this year, but the first training sessions are slated to start in August at the University of Georgia, the AMA said. Courses at the other institutions and on the Internet are expected to be available over the next several months.
The AMA hopes public awareness efforts will persuade individuals and institutions nationwide to become involved in the training. Hauer acknowledged that it will take time for large numbers to come on board.
"The more people we can reach ... the better," he said.