A Poison Center means different things to different people
- For a parent, it is a place to call for treatment advice if their child eats, drinks, rubs onto their skin or breathes a potentially harmful substance
- For a doctor or nurse, it is the place to call for treatment recommendations for potentially poisoned patients in their care
- For health educators, it is the lead organization for materials and assistance in providing poison prevention education in their communities
- For researchers, our database is the place to come for trends and analysis for potentially emerging outbreaks to hazardous substances
At this time of year, as health care reform is debated at all levels of government and society, I think it is important to point out the financial value of poison centers. It is conservatively estimated that the Illinois Poison Center saves $50 million dollars a year in health care costs, or about $12 for every dollar spent on providing poison center services to Illinois. Not bad for a not-for profit with a $4.4 million dollar budget!
How do I get to that figure? It’s based on what we do every day and what the cost would be if the IPC funding were cut and we closed leaving Illinois without poison center services.
- Reduction in ER visits: Lovecchio et al showed in “Poison Control Centers decrease Emergency Healthcare Utilization Costs” that 70% of home callers would seek emergency care if no poison center services were available. Additionally, they showed the emergency charge would be ~$1,150 per ER visit for a poisoning that could be treated at home. The IPC treated over 59,000 people in 2009 with simple first aid instructions over the phone without referral to a hospital or doctor’s office. If 70% of those individuals sought emergency care, the resulting emergency charges would be over $47 million in 2009 alone.
- Decreasing Hospital Admissions: Congressional testimony in 1994 indicated that the number of people admitted to the hospital increased 16% when poison center consultation was denied to health care providers. This occurred as the result of the closing of a regional poison center in Michigan and Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance claims for admissions increased 16%. There were over 10,000 admissions for poisoning according to Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) data, an extra 1,600 admissions would add an additional $16 million in charges annually.
- Decreasing patient Length of Stay (LOS) in a hospital: Doctors and nurses consulted the Illinois Poison Center almost 18,000 times in 2009. A study from Kentuckyshowed that the LOS decreased 1.2 days when a poison center was consulted vs. when a poison center was not consulted. A similar study from New Jersey showed a startling 3.0 day difference. According to the IDPH hospital discharge summary, the average hospital charge for a poisoning admission was $3,000 to $4,000 per day. The IPC was consulted on over 7,400 admitted patients in 2009, if their LOS was extended 1.2 to 3 days, the additional hospital charges would range from $27 million to $88 million per year.
In summary, what would the public do if there were no poison center available? They would seek a higher level of more labor intensive and expensive care. What would happen if health care providers do not have access to the expertise of a poison center? Hospital admissions and hospital LOS would increase because of the lack of a critical information resource for clinical decision makers.
When one adds up the numbers of hospital charges saved, it ranges from $90 million to $150 million. Hospital payment however is different than hospital charges and typically payment is about 40 to 50% of charges. So converted to payment (costs) it is reasonable to conservatively estimate that the IPC saves $50 million every year in unnecessary health care costs.
The Illinois Poison Center provides a host of valuable services, but in today’s environment, value is a key quality that all public health services must provide. The Illinois Poison Center saves $12 for every dollar we spend on providing services. You might say the Illinois Poison Center is the antidote to unnecessary health care costs.
Until next Tuesday,