Sept 17, 2012: What is the difference between the Poison Center and the Toxicology Consulting Service?

The Tennessee Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) provides a 24/7 hotline telephone service (103,000 calls/year) to answer questions about exposures to pharmaceuticals, venoms, environmental agents, and other toxicants.  Specialists in Poison Information (nurse, pharmacist, or physician) answer the hotline phone, assess the situation and provide recommendations for care.  Calls may originate from the public, physicians or other health care providers, EMS/911, health departments, industry, or healthcare facilities.  The majority of calls are from the public.  The Poison Specialist provides first aid advice if the patient (usually a child) is to remain at home, and enters the patient name into a database so a follow-up call can be made to monitor the patient.  Seventy percent of callers thereby remain at home, preventing unnecessary trips to the Emergency Department (ED). The Poison Specialist also triages patients with certain exposures to the ED and then calls that ED to make the provider aware of the patient referral and provide treatment recommendations for that specific poisoning. Thirty percent of the calls are from physicians and other health care providers who call to obtain treatment recommendations for a poisoned patient. If needed, the physician can speak with one of the medical toxicologists directly.  In addition to the hotline telephone service, Toxicologists assist local and state health departments with public health issues related to poisoning or disaster planning. The Tennessee Poison Control Center provides coverage for the entire state of Tennessee and is physically located on the Vanderbilt University Medical Center campus.


The Medical Toxicology Consult Service at Vanderbilt Medical Center is a consultation service staffed by the three physician medical toxicologists. Bedside consultation can be provided on any patient in any unit at VUMC.  Typical cases include assisting with management of a drug overdose, an envenomation (snake, spider, other), or chemical exposure (inhalation, ingestion, dermal or parenteral). A formal consult with the Toxicology Consult Service can be requested by putting in a consult request through the WizOrder system. For questions not necessitating a formal consult, the medical toxicologist on-call can be reached by the hospital operator or contacting the Tennessee Poison Center (1-800-222-1222).


Next Question of the Week:  The Toxicology Outpatient Clinic


This question prepared by:  John Benitez, MD, MPH  Medical Toxicologist


I am interested in any questions you would like answered in the Question of the Week.  Please email me with any suggestion at


Donna Seger, MD

Medical Director

Tennessee Poison Center

Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222