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Survey finds civilian physicians feel underprepared to treat veterans

Research published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association showed non-VA physicians have little comfort and familiarity with veterans' health issues

American Osteopathic Association

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IMAGE: This graphs shows the percentage of physician respondents to a survey about veterans' health care issues by survey item and item response. A rating of 1 indicated very uncomfortable/very unfamiliar/not... view more

Credit: Journal of the American Osteopathic Association

A survey of nearly 150 U.S. physicians who frequently treat veterans found civilian doctors aren't adequately trained in health issues related to military service, according to research published today in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

More than half of the respondent indicated they were not comfortable discussing health-related exposures and risks that veterans might experience such as depleted uranium, smoke and chemical weapons. Further, the survey indicated doctors needed more training to properly identify, communicate with and treat veterans who have military-related health conditions as more than 70 percent reported that they felt that they were between very uncomfortable and just moderately comfortable in this area.

The survey, which spanned two medical meetings in Ohio, involved 140 civilian physicians serving high levels of veterans, defined as at least one of five patients.

"None of the survey results showed an overall high level of comfort with veteran's health issues," said Todd Fredricks, DO, lead researcher. "Our research suggests civilian physicians need more resources to better understand the health implications of military service, particularly since a large number of these patients have experienced combat and may face long-term physical and mental implications."

It's estimated that PTSD effects 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Desert Storm veterans and as many as 10 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan. Yet, only 15 percent of physicians reported a high level of understanding of PTSD.

Furthermore, 80 percent reported unfamiliarity with the referral and consultation services for veterans.

"Civilian physicians want resources and education that will help them provide the highest quality care to patients who've served our country and are in now in the prime of their lives, possibly with long-term health issues related to their military service," Fredricks said.

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The study is accessible online until August 1, 2015.

About The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association

The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA) is the official scientific publication of the American Osteopathic Association. Edited by Robert Orenstein, DO, it is the premier scholarly peer-reviewed publication of the osteopathic medical profession. The JAOA's mission is to advance medicine through the publication of peer-reviewed osteopathic research.

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