Press Release: Power of Automated Poison Control Services


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 15, 2022

Krista Osterthaler, MPH
(202) 670-9388

Data Analysis Published in AJEM Shows Power of Automated Poison Control Services;
More Than Half of Cases in Kids Under Four

A fully-automated online app, webPOISONCONTROL®, handled more than 156,000 poison exposures in 2020, according to an article just published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. Co-author Kelly Johnson-Arbor MD of the National Capital Poison Center stated, “While that was only 7.3% as many human poison exposures as were reported to U.S. phone-based poison centers in 2020, use of the online tool reflects a growing trend of turning to the internet rather than the telephone for health information.”

Online cases were skewed towards younger ages, with 53% occurring in children younger than 4 years compared to 37% of phone-based cases. They also included more nonpharmaceutical exposures (58.5% vs 43.5%).  Most cases (69.8%) were advised it was safe to stay home, while 28.4% were referred to call Poison Control for further evaluation, and 1.7% referred directly to the Emergency Department. Ingestions were the most common exposure routes, although the app also handled skin, eye, inhalation, bite/sting and injection cases. Cosmetics and cleaning substances were the most frequently implicated substance categories and melatonin was the most frequently implicated generic substance. Double dose therapeutic errors accounted for 28% of pharmaceutical cases. Consistent with the public’s ability to sense the seriousness of a case, there were no deaths and only 17 cases with major outcomes reported in 2020.

The webPOISONCONTROL dataset is likely to also prove useful in detecting product hazards and public health issues. Near real-time data visualizations enabled detection of COVID-19-related increases in cases involving hand sanitizers and cleaners.

Johnson-Arbor added, “In this study, the webPOISONCONTROL tool provided a safe and quick alternative for those who are unable or unwilling to use the telephone to call a traditional poison center. In fact, the median time to get an answer in a poison emergency was just 2.7 minutes. Recommendations included what to do, what to watch for, and when to seek additional help. Follow-up was also automated, and app users were reminded to click back in to make sure their symptoms were expected.” Johnson-Arbor urges parents to “be prepared for the unexpected. Know how to reach Poison Control either through or 1-800-222-1222. Check out the tool now, before you need it!”


The National Capital Poison Center (NCPC) is an independent, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to prevent poisonings, save lives, and limit injury from poisoning by providing free, expert guidance online or by phone, 24/7. Poison control services optimize poisoning outcomes and decrease health care costs.

For more information, please contact Krista Osterthaler at or (202) 670-9388

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