Calling the Poison Center
Whom am I speaking to?
- When you call the National Capital Poison Center, you will be speaking directly to one
of the Specialists in Poison Information. All Specialists at the National Capital Poison
Center are registered nurses or pharmacists. All
Specialists have passed a national certification exam in toxicology.
What will I need when I call the Poison Center?
- If possible, have the container that the medication or chemical came
from. Give a brief quick overview of the situation; (i.e. " My 3-year-old just pulled his grandmothers
medicine pack out of the suitcase. He had a couple pills in his mouth but I don't know if
he swallowed any.") The Poison Specialist will then ask you several questions. This
information is needed for the Specialist to make an accurate assessment of the situation's
severity and will play an important part in the treatment information you are given. Once
this information is gathered the Specialist will determine how serious this situation is
and guide you through any recommendations you are given. Some of the questions may
- AGE of patient. Be exact.
- CONDITON of the patient. Let the Specialist know immediately
if the patient is unconscious or appears to have any breathing difficulties,
(wheezing, bluish color to skin, lips, nails).
- WEIGHT of patient. Do not guess if you do not know. If
you have a scale at home you may be asked to weigh the patient. If you do not have a
scale, and the patient is a child try to let the Specialist know if the child is
smaller or larger than average for his age.
- HEALTH HISTORY of the patient. Let the Specialist know
if the patient has any medical problems or allergies or take any current medications.
- The EXACT NAME of the product, as read from the label (if available). Many medications and household products have similar names with only
- The SIZE of the container. This information may be on a
container in forms such as: OZ, FL OZ, QTY, ML or the number of pills. Even if the container
was not full before the exposure, the specialist will need to know the size of a full
- The STRENGTH of a particular product. This may be in
mg, mcg, mg/ml, mg/oz, mg/tsp, mg/#ml or it may be in %. Look for the area on the
container that has active ingredients listed.
- WHEN the exposure occurred and HOW LONG
the exposure lasted.
- The AMOUNT involved in the exposure, if known. Do not
estimate or guess or assume.
- You will also be asked for your NAME, PHONE NUMBER, ZIPCODE,
and your RELATIONSHIP to the patient, (i.e. parent, baby-sitter, etc
Why does the Poison Center need my phone number?
A return phone number is very important in case you are disconnected while speaking with
the Poison Center. Further more, since the Poison Center is giving out treatment information on the
phone it is very important to us that we be able to follow up with you to provide more
information or advice as needed.
Will I have a permanent record if I call the Poison Center?
We maintain confidential, computerized records of each case. Each case is written up as a medical chart.
Once the case is completed and follow up is done, the case is filed along with all the
cases for that day. Please do not hesitate to call the Poison Center because you feel that
you call "too frequently". There is no
such thing as calling too often. We are here to help you. All information
given to the Poison Center is confidential.
Why would I be put on hold by a Poison Center?
The poison center has 6 incoming emergency lines and 1-4 Specialists
handling calls at a time. The
Specialist determines which caller's situation is most critical and
handles that one first. We will handle each call in as short a period of time that allows for
thorough and safe care. We consider all of our calls to be important and there are no
"stupid" calls, but since we are an emergency phone line we must take
life-threatening calls first. You may also be put on hold if we need to
research a question you have asked or seek an opinion from a medical
toxicologist or consultant.