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New Model Helps Hospitals and Health Systems Better Respond to Potential Bioterrorism

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Press Release Date: June 26, 2003

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today announced the availability of a new computer model to help hospitals and health systems plan antibiotic dispensing and vaccination campaigns to respond to bioterrorism or large-scale natural disease outbreaks.

Funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, this new resource is the nation's first computerized staffing model that can be downloaded as a spreadsheet and used to calculate the specific needs of local health care systems based on the number of staff they have and the number of patients they would need to treat quickly in a bioterrorism event. Select for the downloadable software program.

Researchers at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York developed the model after testing a variety of patient triage and drug dispensing plans. Specifically, they evaluated the 2001 New York City and Washington, D.C. anthrax responses, subsequent large-scale live disaster drills in New York City and Arizona in which thousands of volunteers were given fake drugs in response to a hypothetical anthrax attack, and planning models for bioterrorism response developed by California, Florida, Illinois, and other states. Taking elements from these plans, the research team, led by Nathaniel Hupert, M.D., M.P.H., developed two "best practice" dispensing clinic designs that could be used in the event of a bioterrorism attack, including attacks involving anthrax and smallpox, or in the setting of natural outbreaks requiring antibiotics or vaccinations.

The computer model released today allows health care systems planners to estimate the number and type of staff required to operate these clinics in order to provide an entire community with critical medical supplies in an efficient and timely fashion. The model can be downloaded to run on common spreadsheet software and customized for use by health officials at all levels of government, hospital administration, and emergency medical planning.

"This is science-based research at its best," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "Weill Medical College and the many other research institutions funded by HHS are providing health care systems with the critical information and tools they'll need in responding to the unthinkable." The new tool is part of a growing portfolio of bioterrorism preparedness response and research sponsored by AHRQ, with funding from the HHS Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Health Resources and Services Administration. This year, AHRQ is using approximately $10 million in FY 2003 funds to start several new projects and expand several others begun under its October 2000 bioterrorism initiative.

"Expanding these initiatives is the critical next step in the Agency's effort to prepare health care systems in the event of bioterrorism," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "Together, these 28 projects help provide the evidence, tools and models needed by health care system planners at all government levels."

Collectively, the AHRQ projects cover a wide spectrum of research on bioterrorism preparedness and response, including medication/vaccine dispensing; state and regional models; surge capacity; pediatric care; use of information technology; clinician training; clinical/public health linkages, and translating/disseminating bioterrorism research into practice. Additional grantees include Emory University, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, AHRQ's Evidence-based Practice Center at Stanford University/University of California San Francisco, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. (Select for Details on all 28 projects.)

In addition, the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently updated its AHRQ-sponsored Web site to include reference sections on anthrax and smallpox and added new continuing education modules for internal medicine and pediatrics at

The newest funding brings the Agency's current investment in bioterorrism-related research to over $20 million. Select for general information on AHRQ's bioterrorism portfolio.

Additionally, the Agency has just released a program announcement stating the availability of 1- to 2-year research grants for work that examines and promotes the public health care system's readiness for a bioterrorist event and other public health emergencies through the development of new evidence, tools and models. Information on this new funding announcement is available at

Editor's Note: Please note that AHRQ has moved to the following location:

John M. Eisenberg Building
540 Gaither Road
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 427-1360

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs: Farah Englert, (301) 427-1865 (


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