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Study identifies need for disaster preparedness training for dermatologists

Photo by Ilmicrofono Oggiono, via Flickr

Dermatologists remain ill-prepared for a biological disaster, and would benefit from formal preparedness training, according to researchers at George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C.

A study published online ahead of print in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology (Jan. 30, 2020) looked at a previous 2003 survey that revealed 88% of randomly selected American Academy of Dermatology members felt unprepared to respond to a biological attack.

GW researchers conducted a follow up study which was disseminated via the Orlando Dermatology Aesthetic and Clinical Conference listserv—an application that distributes messages to subscribers on an electronic mailing list—that showed the need for training still exists.

Dermatologic conditions such as such as secondary infections following a flood, irritation from blistering agents used in chemical warfare, and acute and chronic effects of cutaneous radiation syndrome can be caused by natural and man-made disasters.

“Recognizing and diagnosing the conditions that can arise following a disaster requires diagnostic acumen, knowledge on reporting, and short- and long-term management strategies,” said Dr. Adam Friedman in a press release. Dr. Friedman is the interim chair of the Department of Dermatology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences and was a senior author on the study.

Led by Emily Murphy, a research fellow in the GW Department of Dermatology, the new survey from an interdisciplinary team of dermatology and emergency medicine researchers looks at whether the field of dermatology has advanced bioterrorism preparedness.

The GW survey found that only 28.9% of respondents received training in disaster preparedness and response.

Respondents to the survey frequently said that they felt dermatologists should be prepared for bioterrorism-related cutaneous diseases, such as anthrax or smallpox-related diseases, as well as infections resulting from natural disasters.

Similar to the 2003 survey, the GW survey found that dermatologists did not receive adequate bioterrorism preparedness training. Those dermatologists who reported having bioterrorism preparedness training still felt ill-prepared to manage patients affected by disasters.

“While few respondents to the survey were trained in disaster preparedness, it is encouraging that 75 per cent reported that it should be included in dermatology training,” Dr. Friedman said. “It is a necessary tool to advance the field.”

Dr. James Philips, section chief of disaster and operational medicine at the GW department of medicine, director of the GW disaster medicine fellowship and study co-author, agreed that dermatologists should receive disaster preparedness training.

“My fellows and I found great value in partnering with our dermatology colleagues for this project," said Dr. Philips. "It is my firm belief that, while disaster medicine and emergency management primarily fall within the scope of emergency medicine and trauma surgery, education and training for other specialities is of great value and is virtually unexplored. In an increasingly complex disaster environment, we welcome such research collaborations with other GW specialists.”

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