Partnerships Between Local Public Health and Poison Control Lead to Greater Community Health Literacy

poison-684990_640The link between local public health departments and poison control centers is obvious, although not always well executed. Because of the sensitive nature of poison control data, and the lack of bureaucratic connection between the two organizations, it can sometimes be hard to share information. It can sometimes even be hard to remember to share information.

But a partnership in California between the state’s poison control centers and local health departments has made available to locals an abundance of information about human and environmental health. California Poison Control System (CPCSS) delivers daily newsletters populated with information about exposure call-ins to help inform public health officials of the threats and trends present in their jurisdictions. Local health departments are then able to use that information to help optimize health education and programming activities in their own communities.

CPCS differs from other poison control centers around the nation in that it is an entity of the University of California, San Francisco School of Pharmacy. The organization, in existence since 1997, manages all poison control activities in California and operates out of four different physical locations scattered throughout the state. CPCS is largely a telephone service, and is available 24 hours a day all year long to the public, health care providers, public health professionals, and anyone else needing assistance. It frequently operates in tandem with California’s public health departments’ emergency preparedness activities, occupational health programs, and tobacco cessation programs. It also helps respond to large public health crises, such as the threat of radiation following the 2011 Japanese earthquake.

CPCS has been making daily reports available to local health departments for the past eight years. Currently, about 12 counties in the state take advantage of the service, which can be personalized depending on the jurisdiction’s specific needs. Most locations receive a simple report of the previous day’s unintentional and intentional exposures—this information is largely the same as what’s sent to the National Poison Data System, which is monitored by the Division of Select Agents and Toxins at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reports typically include minor details about the case, the substance involved, the first three digits of the caller’s zip code, and the frequency of calls being made from a certain community, but health departments might also receive alerts about foodborne illnesses or repeated environmental hazards. CPCS staff also ask the caller if someone from their local health department can call back and talk through the exposure in more detail. And health department staff are afforded the opportunity to review historical data at the center’s warehouse, in order to monitor trends and outbreaks. Participating local health departments have been very happy with the data received.

“Sometimes I think, does anyone really look at these reports?” said Terry Carlson, data systems analyst at the Fresno office of CPCS. “But then, if it doesn’t go out, I get calls. So it’s great to be able to provide that quick look to the health departments and know it’s useful.”

Programs like CPCS’s daily reporting system are just one example of the ways that partnerships between poison control centers and local health departments can bolster the health of a community. Stu Heard, executive director of CPCS, encourages all health departments to reach out to their local poison control center and see what sort of resources are available. CPCS regularly provides lectures, webinars, and presentations on toxicology issues, chemical and drug exposures, and poison prevention programs. The center also has a host of educational materials available to order, most of it free of charge.

“Collaboration is such an important part of the relationship [between health departments and poison control centers,]” Heard said. “Without seeing the information that [poison control centers] have, and that we can provide, we are just a big black box. But great partnerships open all of that up.”

California local health departments interested in receiving daily reports should reach out to California Poison Control. Local health departments located elsewhere in the country should contact their local poison control center and see what sort of partnership and information-sharing opportunities are available.

About Katie Regan

Katie Regan serves as the Communications Specialist for Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness, and Catastrophic Response at NACCHO. Her work includes promoting local health departments' best practices through NACCHO's various storytelling and communications channels. Twitter: @katiejregan

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