May 13, 2002: Do poison control centers really save money?

The answer to this question is a resounding “YES!”

In an attempt to garner legislative support for increased State funding of Tennessee poison control services, the Middle Tennessee Poison Center conducted a survey of poison center callers to determine the action the caller would have taken if poison center services were not available.  The survey group consisted of callers in a thirty-day period that had managed their exposure on site, thereby avoiding an unnecessary visit to a hospital emergency department.  1,190 persons received home treatment in the specified thirty-day period.  Using 1,190 cases as an average for home treatment cases, it was estimated that 14,280 cases would be managed at home in 2001.


The survey group was asked to answer two questions regarding their call.  54% agreed to participate.  In response to the question, “What action would you have taken if a poison control center had not been available?”  76% replied with an answer that would have resulted in a visit to an emergency department if poison control services were not available. It was reasoned that 10,853 yearly would result in an emergency visit if a poison control center were not available.


55% of the survey group agreed to provide the name of their insurance carrier.  State medical assistance was received by 28% of the survey group.  The data indicated that 3,039 cases per year on state medical assistance would result in a visit to the emergency room if poison control services were not available.


To determine the cost savings of using poison control services, three poisoning case scenarios were sent to hospitals in the Middle Tennessee Poison Center service area.  Estimated emergency room fees were requested for each scenario.  The scenarios involved non-toxic exposures that could be managed with home treatment.  The average emergency room cost for a non-toxic exposure was $344.84 based on responses received.


It was concluded that the state of Tennessee would pay an additional $1,047,969 yearly in emergency room fees from residents in the 57 counties served by Middle Tennessee Poison Center if poison center services were not available.  This data does not include calls from the 38 counties served by another regional poison control center; therefore, the debt incurred by the State would be significantly greater.


Poison control centers not only save lives; they save valuable healthcare dollars.  This study demonstrates the significant role of poison control centers in decreasing unnecessary hospital costs, particularly as related to state medical assistance.  There is a need for increased state support of poison control centers since the state is the direct beneficiary of poison control services to its residents.

As always, if there are any questions, call the MTPC.


I am interested in any questions that you would like answered in “Question of the Week.”  Please e-mail me with any suggestions at


Donna Seger, M.D.

Medical Director

Middle Tennessee Poison Center