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Bioterrorism Research

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Value to clinicians of educational Web sites on bioterrorism is unproven

A study begun in November 2001, after the anthrax mailings that followed the September attack on the World Trade Center, found that doctors were more likely to use media reports than an educational Web site to learn about bioterrorism preparedness. During this period, information about biological agents deluged both the general public and health care professionals via newspaper and magazine articles, television, radio, lectures, and medical Web sites. Even doctors who participated in a Web-based educational session did not know more about bioterrorism preparedness than before the session, according to the study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (contract 290-00-0020).

Investigators at Boston Children's Hospital Center for Biopreparedness pretested the bioterrorism knowledge of general and pediatric emergency medicine attending physicians, fellows, and 4th-year emergency medicine residents. These clinicians then attended a lecture on bioterrorism. Sixty-three physicians, including 20 female physicians, were enrolled in the study from November 2001 to April 2002. Participants were randomized to a Web group that received continuous access to a bioterrorism educational Web site with weekly exposure to case scenarios of diseases due to biological agents or to a control group. Participants were retested after 1 and 6 months to identify their source of information and assess their knowledge.

The researchers found no difference in pretest scores between the Web intervention and control groups (45 vs. 44 percent) and no significant difference between pre- and post-test scores between the two groups at 1 month (48 vs. 45 percent) and 6 months (51 vs. 47 percent). More than 60 percent of physicians cited media reports as their primary source of information on bioterrorism and believed that their knowledge about bioterrorism was limited after 1 month. Given that about 30 percent of the Web group did not use the site (many felt it had limited applicability to their practice), the data may not accurately reflect the effectiveness of the Web site.

See "Efficacy of an educational Web site for educating physicians about bioterrorism," by Sarita Chung, M.D., Kenneth D. Mandl, M.D., M.P.H., Michael Shannon, M.D., M.P.H., and Gary R. Fleisher, M.D., in the February 2004 Academic Emergency Medicine 11(2), pp. 143-148.

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