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Emergency Department Poisoning Visits in Children Younger Than 6 Years: Comparing Referrals by a Regional Poison Control Center to Referrals by Other Sources

Jackson, Benjamin F. MD*; McCain, Jennifer E. MD; Nichols, Michele H. MD; Slattery, Ann P. RN, RPh, DrPH, CSPI, DABAT§; King, William D. RPH, MPH, DrPH; Losek, Joseph D. MD*

doi: 10.1097/PEC.0b013e318276c07a
Original Articles

Objective The study purpose was to compare medical appropriateness and costs of regional poison control center (RPCC) versus non-RPCC referrals to children’s hospital emergency department (ED) for acute poison exposure.

Methods This is a retrospective cross-sectional study of children (<6 years) during an 8-month period, who presented for poison exposure. Demographic and clinical patient characteristics were abstracted onto a uniform data form. Medical appropriateness was determined by presence of 1 of 4 criteria by 3 independent reviewers blinded to the patients’ race, source of referral, charges, and disposition.

Results Determination of medical appropriateness was matched by all 3 reviewers in 187 patients who make up the study population. There were 92 RPCC-referred cases and 95 non-RPCC–referred controls. Groups were comparable by age, sex, toxin, and symptoms. For RPCC referrals, 84 were self-transported, and 8 were transported by emergency medical services. For non-RPCC referrals, 60 were self-referred/transported, 26 were transported by emergency medical services, and 9 were physician referred. Regional poison control center referrals had a 39.1% higher rate of medical appropriateness than did non-RPCC referrals (odds ratio, 13.0; 95% confidence interval, 3.6–36.1). For this sample, mean charges for inappropriate ED poison exposure visits were $313.42, and the cost per RPCC call was $25, thus giving a potential return on investment of 12.54 to 1 favoring RPCC triage.

Conclusions When compared with other referral sources, RPCC triage results in fewer unnecessary ED visits in this age group. Increasing prehospital use of poison centers would likely decrease unnecessary ED referrals and related costs.

From the *Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC; †Children’s Hospital of Alabama; ‡Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of Alabama-Birmingham; §Children’s Hospital Regional Poison Control Center; and ∥Department of Pediatrics, University of Alabama-Birmingham, Birmingham, AL.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Benjamin F. Jackson, MD, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Medical University of South Carolina, FAAP135 Rutledge Ave, PO Box 250566, Charleston, SC 29425 (e-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.