Early recognition of a terrorist attack with biologic agents will rely on physician diagnosis. Physicians’ ability to diagnose and care for patients presenting after a bioterror event is unknown. The role of online case-based didactics to measure and improve knowledge in the diagnosis and treatment of these patients is unknown.
A multicenter online educational intervention was completed by 631 physicians at 30 internal medicine residency programs in 16 states and Washington, DC, between July 1, 2003, and June 10, 2004. Participants completed a pretest, assessing ability to diagnose and manage potential cases of smallpox, anthrax, botulism, and plague. A didactic module reviewing diagnosis and management of these diseases was then completed, followed by a posttest. Pretest performance measured baseline knowledge. Posttest performance compared with pretest performance measured effectiveness of the educational intervention. Results were compared based on year of training and geographic location of the residency program.
Correct diagnoses of diseases due to bioterrorism agents were as follows: smallpox, 50.7%; anthrax, 70.5%; botulism, 49.6%; and plague, 16.3% (average, 46.8%). Correct diagnosis averaged 79.0% after completing the didactic module (P<.001). Correct management of smallpox was 14.6%; anthrax, 17.0%; botulism, 60.2%; and plague, 9.7% (average, 25.4%). Correct management averaged 79.1% after completing the didactic module (P<.001). Performance did not differ based on year of training (P = .54) or geographic location (P = .64). Attending physicians performed better than residents (P<.001).
Physician diagnosis and management of diseases caused by bioterrorism agents is poor. An online didactic module may improve diagnosis and management of diseases caused by these agents.