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ACP-ASIM Urges President to Appoint Executive Branch Physician as Spokesperson on Health Effects of Bioterrorism

(Washington, DC): The American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM) has sent a letter to United States President George W. Bush urging him to designate a physician from within the executive branch of government as the principal public spokesperson on bioterrorism.

"As the recent incidents of anthrax exposure in Washington, D.C., illustrate, public confidence in the ability of local, state, and federal health officials to deal effectively with a potential bioterrorist incident is undermined when they do not get accurate and timely information from a single authoritative source," wrote ACP-ASIM President William J. Hall, MD, FACP, in the letter.

As an example of the public information problem, Dr. Hall cited the recent experience of individuals who worked or visited Capitol Hill or worked in the affected post office who did not know whether, when or how they should be tested for possible anthrax exposure.

"Different spokespersons provided different accounts of the risk of possible exposure, whether or not the anthrax was 'weapons grade,' and the necessity of testing for individuals who may have been exposed," wrote Dr. Hall. "Internists nationwide are reporting that patients are asking them to provide them with supplies of antibiotics as a preventive measure against anthrax exposure, even though their physicians know that this will do more harm than good."

"The public is likely to have the greatest degree of confidence in the information that is provided to them on the health consequences of bioterrorism if it comes from a physician from within the Executive Branch," wrote Dr. Hall. "A single physician-spokesperson on the medical and health consequences of bioterrorism would help assure that the public receives the most accurate and current information possible on the health consequences of such attacks."

The ACP-ASIM recommended that the Surgeon General of the United States, or the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), be considered for the role.

Dr. Hall said the ACP-ASIM's proposal would support, rather than undermine, the essential roles played by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Governor Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security.

"It would help them carry out their responsibilities by allowing them to call on a single physician-spokesperson from the Executive Branch who has the requisite clinical skills to speak authoritatively to the public on all questions relating to the prevention, detection, reporting, and treatment of bioterrorism," wrote Dr. Hall. "Secretary Thompson and Governor Ridge should continue to communicate to the public the overall response of their agencies to bioterrorism-as they have been doing so effectively-but with the added credibility that will accrue from having a designated physician-spokesperson at their sides to address all health-related questions and concerns from the public."

Dr. Hall reiterated the ACP-ASIM's commitment to working with the Administration to protect the public from bioterrorism, and commended the president for his leadership on the issue.

ACP-ASIM is the nation's largest medical specialty society, representing 115,000 physicians, as well as medical students, who specialize in internal medicine.


Jennifer Whalen, ACP-ASIM Washington Office, (202) 261-4575
Jack Pope, ACP-ASIM Washington Office, (202) 261-4556

Page updated: 11-03-03

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