The American Board of Physician Specialists (ABPS; Atlanta) has organized what it said will be for the first time in the history of medicine a program that will enable physicians from trauma surgeons to dermatologists to psychiatrists to become certified in disaster medicine.
Those associated with the newly formed American Board of Disaster Medicine said that the board, which will evaluate the knowledge base of all types of physicians, is needed in this country as it faces potential health crises ranging from an avian flu pandemic to another terrorist attack.
The [American] Board of Disaster Medicine itself was founded in response to the need for physicians in local communities that are trained to interface with the emergency operations facility in their community and at a state and federal level, Dr. Maurice Ramirez, chairperson of the American Board of Disaster Medicine, told Medical Device Daily.
William Carbone, CEO of the American Board of Physician Specialists, echoed that sentiment.
We felt it was needed for the good of the country, public health and that we be better prepared, Carbone told MDD, noting that this is a requirement not only for our government and other agencies, but [also] physicians and allied health professionals need to have a program by which there is a way to evaluate their knowledge on disaster medicine.
Carbone described the American Board of Physician Specialties as one of three multi-physician specialty boards of certification that is a nationwide organization.
The board will be accepting applications from physicians of various specialties on May 1 of this year and plans to administer the first examination later in the fall.
Ramirez was involved in disaster aid in both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita last year. Being on the ground during those two natural disasters, he said, We saw some of how that lack of integration affected the response in Katrina, particularly in the first 24 to 48 hours before federal assets were available.
Whereas Katrina victims languished in disarray, Ram-irez said Rita was an almost textbook appropriate response just a mere five weeks later.
Asked why there was disparity in the response, Ramirez said, You get into a lot of political issues, a lot of states rights issues, but the largest indicator was the integration or in the case of Katrina the lack thereof, of disaster preparedness from a healthcare delivery perspective.
In emergency planning, everybody made the assumption that since hospitals are required to have an internal emergency plan, that the plan accounts for all of the communities external needs.
In reality, that s not true at all, he said, noting that healthcare delivery preparedness involves everything from knowing how many stretchers or monitors or other hard equipment will be needed, to an area s surge capacity with personnel, as well.
That is why this first step of the board formation is so important for physicians, he said.
You have to understand the command structure involved [in disasters], because it s not a standard command structure, which is a doctor at the command, Ramirez said. In the situation of a disaster, the physician is actually very far down the chain of command. And while they do control patient care, they may have no control over the location of patient care or the length of time they have to provide patient care.
One situation physicians may face in a disaster is the prospect of being evacuated themselves from the affected area, Ramirez said. And if they remain, the rule of thumb is that physicians first have to protect themselves before detecting the ongoing risk and assessing the overall situation.
Fortunately, Carbone said training for disaster preparedness is widely available, although physicians are not always aware of it. For example, in the state of Georgia, the Medical College of Georgia (Augusta) offers courses in disaster preparedness, he said.
The process to form the board began two years ago in a formal fashion, Ramirez said, but it had been discussed since slightly before 9/11 occurred.
The board s disaster program will continue to evolve as technology changes and as experience is gained with each natural or manmade disaster, Carbone said.
The American Board of Physician Specialties was formed in 1950 and incorporated two years later. The board provides certification for allopathic and osteopathic physicians.