Cardiologist: a specialist in the structure and function and disorders of the heart Neurologist: a medical specialist in the nervous system and the disorders affecting it Nephrologist: a physician who specializes in diseases of the kidneys. Medical Toxicologist: a specialist on the care of patients exposed to potentially hazardous or poisonous substances
The practice of medicine is an increasingly complex academic discipline, and much like raising a family, sometimes it ‘takes a village’ of specialists to provide the best, most timely care available. If I have a stroke, I really want a neurologist working with my primary care physician. If I have a heart attack, I want a cardiologist directing my care. If I should develop renal failureI would like a nephrologist on board. I want and expect the same standard of care for the patients that I care for when I am working in the emergency department.
While such specialists are available at most medium to large hospitals, medical toxicology is a unique specialty with few board certified practitioners. In Illinois, less than 10 hospitals have medical toxicologists on staff to provide bedside consults on poisoned patients. So what do the healthcare providers at the remaining 183 acute care hospitals in Illinois do for toxicology-related treatment recommendations? They call the Illinois Poison Center.
Over the past 50 years, poison centers have evolved as a cost-efficient network to help doctors and nurses treat severely poisoned patients in their care. The network stretches across the nation, providing access to specialized toxicology experts that would otherwise be unavailable for rare and challenging cases. The following is a testimonial from a physician in Southern Illinois:
“As an emergency department physician, I’ve called the Illinois Poison Center many times in my career. One exotic case that instantly comes to mind concerned a pregnant woman who was bitten three times by a Cottonmouth snake. She was in pretty bad shape. The problem was that no one was sure if the anti-venom could be given to a pregnant woman. We immediately called in the Illinois Poison Center to discuss the anti-venom treatment protocol. IPC specialists conferenced with the poison center in Arizona to help out as they deal with envenomations much more frequently. We ended up giving the anti-venom and with the poison center’s assistance, we saw the patient through a very serious poisoning.
Without the poison center, we would have been a mess. We don’t have a lot of experience with envenomations, as they happen so infrequently in our part of the country. Being connected to the experts at the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center as well as regional experts is a resource we never would have had access to without the IPC.
Resources are very limited in the emergency department. We don’t have the time to research on the internet or in books for unique circumstances about the poisonings that come to us. I know that the Illinois Poison Center has advanced databases with the latest treatment information. With the IPC’s help, we have the ability to intervene quickly for our patients. And that can make all the difference.”
Stories like this are repeated every day. Over 19,000 times a year, doctors, pharmacists and nurses call the Illinois Poison Center seeking treatment advice and toxicology information. The toxicology information services the IPC provides improves patient care and also saves scarce healthcare resources.
By helping to direct more effective laboratory testing, antidote usage and patient care, poison centers shorten the length of stays in a hospital by 1 to 3 days, saving literally millions of healthcare dollars per year.