UCSF

California Poison Control System reaches the public via social media and mobile devices

The California Poison Control System (CPCS) is now connecting with state residents through text messaging, Twitter updates, Facebook quizzes, online games, and even a mobile application (app), which was launched today as part of National Poison Prevention Week — March 20-29, 2011. The CPCS is the first poison control system in the U.S. to reach the public through these popular electronic venues.

“People think of the California Poison Control System as the state’s 24-hour emergency telephone advice service in cases of exposure to poisonous or toxic substances. We’re certainly that, but we also teach Californians about poisoning and how to prevent it,” says Iana Simeonov, who directs consumer marketing and communications for the CPCS and is leading the CPCS effort to use social media and mobile device platforms. “To teach effectively we need to reach the public in new ways.”

Those new ways include:

hand holding a cellphone
Niklas Bildhauer

Text messaging: A weekly text-messaging service, available in either English or Spanish, that provides tips on how to keep homes and family members safe from poisoning. Several thousand subscribers are enrolled from California and across the U.S. To sign up, text TIPS to 69866.

screenshot of a quiz

Facebook page quizzes: Two quizzes on the CPCS’s Facebook page—Gee, that tastes funny! and Stop it, you’re killing me—that measure poison IQ.

screenshot of a tweet (representative, not specific)

Tweets: Regular poison prevention tweets on the micro-blogging service Twitter.

screenshot of the Choose Your Poison game

Online game: Pills vs. Candy, a bilingual online game and mobile phone app that shows how easy it is for a child to confuse medications with sweets.

screenshots of the Choose Your Poison iPhone app

iPhone app: The CPCS’s venture into using social media and mobile devices caught the attention of the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) Telemedicine group, which has developed Pills vs. Candy into a free iPhone app, called Choose Your Poison, now available in an English version and soon-to-available in Spanish.

“Pills vs. Candy has been a great project for us…engaging, educational, and one that really reaches out to the public,” says Jeff Jorgenson, assistant director of TeleMedicine and other mHealth electronic health education projects at UCSF.

Before launching their electronic media campaign, CPCS staff members in the system’s Los Angeles and San Francisco locations conducted extensive market research to discover how people access health information. Their findings confirmed that Americans increasingly are “crowd sourcing” via social contacts for health information.

Many of the calls that come to the CPCS are from low-income, low-English- proficiency clients, who gravitate to social media for information, says Simeonov. “Young adult Hispanics in particular are avid texters,” she adds. “And it’s a trend that the U.S. is following; last year there were more text messages sent than phone calls.”

The CPCS is continuing to look for new ways to reach its target audience of young families. In March 2010 the system will begin a serialized and illustrated Poisonous Tale in 140-character installments on Twitter.

For now, the system’s mainstay remains its free multilingual phone hotline at 1-800-222-1222, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is staffed by specially trained pharmacists, physicians, nurses, and poison information providers. The CPCS fields 330,000 calls annually to its hotline number; 51 percent of these calls are for poison exposures in children age 5 and under.

The California Poison Control System is administered by the Department of Clinical Pharmacy in the School of Pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. Funding for all CPCS education outreach efforts comes from the U.S. Health Resource Services Administration.

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About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.