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January 7, 2011

Blue Ridge Poison Center earns recertification

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A young child opens his grandfather’s daily medicine organizer and eats one of the pills. It’s a scary situation for a parent, but one that can usually be safely managed without an emergency room visit by calling the Blue Ridge Poison Center (BRPC) at the University of Virginia Health System.

This is a common scenario for the specially trained poison experts on call around the clock at the BRPC, which earned recertification last month as a regional poison center by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. BRPC is one of three certified poison centers in Virginia; a total of 60 regional poison centers in the U.S. have earned certification.

BRPC received recertification by meeting a host of national standards, including:

A call center open 24 hours a day and staffed by certified poison specialist nurses and pharmacists. The poison specialists undergo two years of training and must pass a rigorous national exam. In the last decade, 100 percent of the specialists trained at BRPC passed the exam, far exceeding the national average. Medical direction by doctors certified in medical toxicology. BRPC has four full-time doctors and two part-time doctors specializing in toxicology. Education programs for the public and medical professionals throughout the center’s 54-county service area in central and western Virginia, stretching from Winchester in the north to Bristol in the south.

Last year, the poison center received about 34,000 calls for assistance. About 90 percent of the calls received from the general public were handled without sending the patient to a healthcare facility, said Christopher Holstege, MD, FACMT, medical director of the poison center.

“Those patients were treated at home at no cost to themselves and without putting additional burdens on hospital emergency rooms,” Holstege said.

If someone may have ingested a poison, here’s the key information you can provide to help the poison specialists assist you:

What the patient was exposed to or consumed. How much the patient ingested. The patient’s health history, including any medical conditions or medications the patient is taking.

To reach BRPC at any time for confidential help, for poison information or for educational materials, call (800) 222-1222 or (800) 451-1428 (from a cell phone).

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