Use of poison centers can cut hospital costs

A surprising non-clinical resource could help cut down on hospital costs: poison control centers.

That's the conclusion of a new study by public health researchers at the University of Illinois, according to a study announcement.

The researchers scrutinized more than 10,000 hospital inpatient admissions for poisoning in 2010. About half of those patients received treatment advice from poison centers at some point in their care process. In most of those cases, hospital emergency room personnel initiated the call upon admission.

"We found that if the poison center was involved in patients' care there was a cumulative decrease of $2,078 in hospital charges per 10 patients," study lead author Lee Friedman, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at UIC, said in the announcement.

Poison control centers can provide services such as pill identification, drug interactions, and updated information regarding food and drug recalls, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).

Aside from the cost savings, the average hospital length of stay for a patient whose hospital contacted a poison control center dropped by about 1.2 hours, or one day for every 20 patients treated.

Altogether, the study concluded that those hospitals that made phone calls saved about $2.1 million in total. It estimated that if hospitals in Illinois had contacted poison control centers for the nearly 167,000 patients admitted in 2010, they would have saved as much as $34.6 million.

In addition to accidental ingestion of household products such as bleach or insect killer, the study also linked poisonings to overdoses of over-the-counter and illicit drugs, as well as experimental compounds, such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana. Hospitalization in the latter instances have more than doubled between 1997 and 2008, particularly among Americans age 45 and older, according to data from the Association of Healthcare Research and Quality.

Despite the savings connected to the use of poison control centers, most are unevenly funded from discretionary spending at the state level, and only half of the people living in the United States have ongoing access to them. Altogether, 55 operate nationwide, according to the AAPCC.

To learn more:
- read the study announcement 
- visit the AAPCC section for healthcare providers