October 14, 2008

Hospitals Not Ready for Dirty Bomb Attack

A study suggests U.S. hospitals aren't adequately prepared for the medical consequences of a terrorist attack 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 Becker, an associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "In fact, it is no exaggeration to say the actions of hospitals will be central to the success or failure of efforts to manage a radiological terrorism attack and its health consequences."

The researchers conducted a series of focus groups with emergency department physicians and nurses, during which participants discussed a hypothetical "dirty bomb" scenario and the treatment of patients affected by such an attack. The researchers said the doctors and nurses consistently expressed the view that hospitals are not sufficiently prepared to respond effectively to a radiological attack.

Key concerns included the possibility of the hospital being overwhelmed with patients, potential staff shortages and a general lack of familiarity with radiation safety and treatment issues.

The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, appears in the American Medical Association journal Disaster, Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.