No Cost Advice that Can Save a Life. The Value of the Poison Center

Julie Weber Notices

A challenge for the Missouri Poison Center is making the public aware of the many services offered and the value it provides to the community.  You might think a free of charge service would have no problems drawing in customers, but it is not as easy as it seems.

WHAT KEEPS PEOPLE FROM CALLING THE POISON CENTER?

It may be perceived that the poison center is just for children…

  • This is NOT true, the poison center is available for all age groups from the very young to senior citizens.

Some people are concerned that they are calling us for something we do not handle…

  • You may be surprised at all of the types of calls we handle – from medication errors and overdoses, to snake bites and plant exposures…and everything in between.  If you happen to call about something we do not handle, we will politely let you know and help point you in the right direction.

Some people would prefer to speak with their doctor instead of speaking to someone they don’t know…

  • We understand this concern, however, once you finally get a hold of someone from the doctor’s office, more than likely they will tell you to call the poison center.  The time you spend waiting on that phone call from the doctor is often full of worry, whereas when you call the poison center, you will speak directly with an expert within seconds for immediate advice.  Remember, the call is always confidential.

People look on the internet for answers, that way they don’t have to “bother” anyone…

It may seem easier to just look it up on the internet, but very seldom does an internet search give you a reliable answer with certainty.  Most times, it is frustrating clicking from one site to another and getting conflicting information. You may have no idea who is answering the question and wonder, do they know what they are talking about?  When you call the poison center, you can be certain that you are speaking with a registered nurse or pharmacist who has been specially trained in poison information.

WHAT IF THE POISON CENTER WAS NOT CALLED WHEN AN EMERGENCY HAPPENED?

To answer that very question, the Utah Poison Center conducted a survey from 2009-2014.  There were many different responses but overall they found the patient was transported, either by family or by EMS, to an emergency department.  In contrast, when a poison center is called, the majority of cases are able to be handled at home. This avoids the cost of an emergency room visit and prevents the overcrowding of emergency rooms with patients who do not need to be there.  When someone calls a poison center right away, first aid instructions are given, followed by calls to the home to check on the progress of the patient. These early intervention steps have the greatest impact for positive results.

WHAT IF A PATIENT NEEDS TREATMENT IN A HEALTH CARE FACILITY?

Poison centers are also helpful for patients who require medical attention.  Nurses and pharmacists at the poison center triage calls and refer a person into an emergency room for medical attention when appropriate.  Once the patient is there, the poison center assists emergency room staff with treatment of the poisoned patient.  This promptness saves additional costs that can add up when patients do not call the poison center and delay going to an emergency room.  Studies have also shown that once a poisoned patient is hospitalized, there is a reduction in the number of hospital days required when a poison center is involved.

Poison centers are a very important resource for the public with no direct cost to them.  By saving consumers millions of health-care dollars every year, the value of this service is difficult to overstate.

If you have questions about the poison center, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.  Specially trained nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7/365.  The service is free and confidential.

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