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Don’t Search the Internet—Call Poison Control First

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Don’t Search the Internet—Call Poison Control First

Aug 28, 2015
These days, we use the internet to search for answers to almost everything. But if someone is having an emergency because they ingested too many pills or drank something under the kitchen sink, skip the internet and call poison control (800-222-1222). Unless someone is unconscious or having difficulty breathing, you should call poison control before you call 911. The experts on the other end of the line can help you find answers and, more often than not, save you an expensive trip to the emergency room.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Don't search the Internet first. The first thing you should do is call Poison Control and we'll tell you why next on the Scope.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

Interviewer: Your child swallowed some Drano or your husband got some gasoline in his eye. Or your grandma took too many of her pills. What's the first thing you should do? It's not search the Internet for an answer. And we're going to find out from Barbara Crouch. She's with the Utah Poison Control Center. The first thing you should do in any of those instances is what, Barbara?

Barbara: Call the Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222.

Interviewer: But it seems it would be easier and I wouldn't be a hassle if I just went on the Internet and found out what to do if my child swallowed Drano? Why shouldn't I do that?

Barbara: I mean, you can search and get many, many different answers, but how do you know when you have the right answer? So it is a click on your cell phone, right, to make that call, a 10-digit dial from you home phone number, and you get an expert, you get a pharmacist, a nurse who is a specialist in poison information that can rapidly assess the situation and provide first-aid instructions.

Interviewer: Action item number one, let's say that phone number again and make sure everybody puts it in their phone because it could be a phone number seconds count. It could be a phone number that could save somebody's life.

Barbara: Absolutely. 1-800-222-1222.

Interviewer: All right. So rewind this, put that in your phone because you know we can't put the magnets up on the fridge anymore that says Poison Control like when we were kids, right? This was interesting to me. What is a poison? Because I think we only tend to think of one type thing as a poison, but there are a lot of them out there.

Barbara: Sure. Most people think about a swallowed poison, right? My child puts something in their mouth and swallows it. But a poison is anything that gets in the mouth, in the eyes, on the skin, we breathe in that can be potentially harmful. So it's not just a medication or a household product that gets swallowed. It could be a fume or a vapor that we inhale, smell something in the environment, it could be a bite or a sting. It could be exposure to sap from a plant or it could be a chemical that we splash in our eye when we're cleaning. All of those things are things that we handle every day at the Poison Control Center.

Interviewer: If any of those things happen, you should call immediately. And what can the person on the other end of the phone do for me?

Barbara: So they're going to rapidly ask a series of questions to assess the situation and they're going to rapidly determine whether or not it's safe, that we can manage that either on site or whether or not that situation requires the trip to the emergency department. And that typically takes about three minutes to do that and to assess that situation. And in 80% of the time, we can manage that situation at home with telephone follow-up.

Interviewer: That's much faster than I could search Google and then try to figure out if something's accurate or not. And that inaccurate information can also cause more damage. For example, I understand inducing vomiting isn't necessarily always the way you want to handle a poison incident anymore.

Barbara: In fact, we never want to induce vomiting anymore. We found that it doesn't help, it doesn't help us out, and in many cases it could do more harm. So we never recommend inducing vomiting, but you can go on the Internet and you can search for what to do in a poisoning. It will tell you to induce vomiting, it will give you several ways to do. Many of them are potentially dangerous.

Interviewer: I hope we've made the case that it's just so much better to call Poison Control and talk to an expert because they can do it so much more quickly, they know the latest information, 80% of the time, you mentioned you don't have even to leave your house. It's something you can manage over the phone and it saves money too, from what I understand. Poison Control Center actually saves money because people don't have to go to the ER.

Barbara: That's right. And national studies have demonstrated for every dollar spent on a poison center, we avert almost $14 in healthcare costs. So huge savings to our payers, our state governments, our federal governments our insurance companies and to all of us who pay for our own way into the emergency department.

Interviewer: Is there a time where you would want to call 911 instead of Poison Control in suspected poisoning incidents?

Barbara: Absolutely. Anytime anybody is unconscious or having difficulty breathing or is seizing, you should always call 911 first. But, other than that, the experts at the Poison Control Center, those pharmacists, nurses, specialists in poison information are going to be there right at your fingertips and they're going walk you through the situation and make the right decisions.

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