When people have medical questions, they often turn to the internet for answers. That’s why the American Association of Poison Control Centers created a new online tool where the public can find information on toxic substances without picking up the phone.
For 30 years the public has been able to call the poison control hotline for information on potential poisoning. But because of changing technology and communication channels, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) has introduced a new way to request help.
We’re trying to meet consumers where they are in terms of their communication preferences.
PoisonHelp.org is an online tool that allows people to search from among 325,000 products and substances and receive advice on what action to take—whether that’s immediately calling the hotline or looking out for particular symptoms.
“We’re trying to meet consumers where they are in terms of their communication preferences, and this is our way of doing that,” said AAPCC Director of National Outreach Krista Osterthaler.
After identifying the hazardous substance through the front page search bar, the individual answers a short series of questions about the age of victim, how he or she was exposed, and present symptoms. The site then creates a tailored recommendation.
While poisoning is the number-one cause of injury deaths in the U.S. and new poisoning hazards—like liquid nicotine from e-cigarettes, marijuana edibles, or liquid laundry detergent packets—are emerging, calls to the hotline have dropped by 1 million in the past 5 years. Osterthaler explained it was largely because people are turning to the internet for advice.
“People tend to go online for health information more and more,” she said. “They want to do a quick search, and they want to get the information that they need without having to talk to a person.”
In addition, she said often times people, namely parents, are embarrassed to admit what they or their children have done over the phone, in which case they want the anonymity of internet search—a benefit the new website can provide. “What we’re really trying to do is just remove the barriers, perceived or real, that people have when it comes to engaging with the experts at poison control,” she said.
Currently, half of the hotline calls concern children under five, 20 percent are from healthcare professionals seeking advice on treating patients, and the rest are from adults and teens. AAPCC hopes PoisonHelp.org will be another go-to resource for these groups.
And to ensure people know about the available resource, AAPCC is working with partner organizations and members to inform the public of the new website and launched a texting campaign that sends individuals the hotline number and URL to enter into their phone.