California Poison Control System
Since its inception in 1997, the California Poison Control System’s (CPCS) toll-free treatment advice and referral service has responded directly to over one million callers. In an effort to mirror and leverage this achievement, the CPCS has initiated a remarkable phase in the expansion of its education and outreach by choosing one simple focal point – the consumer.
By placing consumer needs and customer satisfaction at the center of the outreach process, the CPCS has concluded that answering “Who will consumers listen to?” is more relevant than asking “Who will to talk to consumers on our behalf?” The first question leads to results, the latter to exhausted resources, and atrophied endeavors.
Although consumers may be somewhat aware of poison centers, few understand how, or why, such services fit into their lives. An investigation into consumer perceptions revealed not only a lack of comprehension, but also an image of poison centers as remote, dispassionate and unapproachable. This image was often inadvertently perpetuated by alarmist, brusque and confusing messages that further distanced consumers.
Our objective was to employ market research methods to understand the communication needs of consumers, particularly low-socioeconomic status (at or below Federal poverty guidelines) parents regarding poison exposure and treatment and to determine market position and communication strategies for the CPCS and its hotline.
We started with a broad, open-ended exploratory process. Projective tools, such as image collage, were employed to aid users, in this case educators, in expressing the critical attributes and perceptions of our service. Knowledge gained from this process guided the development of a design framework that set the tone for the entire process.
This next phase was more focused, detail-oriented and conducted once the initial framework and preliminary concepts had already been developed. We aimed to assess whether particular concepts, such as the ubiquitous “call in case of a poison emergency”, were useful, usable, and/or desirable to target users. Evaluative tools, such as focus groups and questionnaires, were used to record feedback regarding the concepts being tested. Knowledge gained from the evaluative guided the design refinement process.
We examined the California consumer by reviewing demographic data and investigating additional characteristics such as lifestyle, behavior and attitudes. CPCS call data were studied to determine if a picture of a “typical’ consumer could be realized. Data proved inconclusive for meaningful characteristics, and we chose to instead focus on the general mandate of Poison Control Centers to direct attention and resources to “identified at risk populations”. If children under the age of 5 account for the majority of poison exposures, we asked ourselves who are their parents, where do they live, how do they behave and how do we reach them?
Existing research pointed out that children born to low-income and low socio-economic status (at or below Federal poverty guidelines) parents have a higher probability of childhood injury. We created different groups, thus creating our market segments, by identifying consumer characteristics such as:
Ethnicity and Language
Household size and occupants/number of children
Education and Income
Education venues: Where, what kind, child?
Community participation and activities
Government/Community program involvement
Use of services by phone
Family roles and responsibilities
Receptiveness to health information
“ How to market to” info
Successful health programs
Successful campaigns and methods
Why were they successful?
What factors contributed to their success?
What can we learn?
Essentials of formative market research
In most cases of mild to moderate exposure participants, although indicating a strong desire to alleviate their anxiety, participants said they would take only low-level action, such as calling a friend or relative, or no action.
428 face-to-face interviews were conducted with individuals fitting the demographic profiles of our focus groups participants in the same geographical regions.
The questionnaires were designed to lead to the specifics about poisoning prevention and knowledge about local poison control center, but the first set of questions were general home injury prevention questions.
Across all socio-demographic groups, parents revealed that they were most worried about sharp objects, in order of concern, cleaning supplies were second and electrical cords and outlets were third.
The most common response among all groups was: “Keeping child in sight at all times” followed by “Saying no to the child”.
48% of all 428 respondents reported at least one poison incident in the past year. This approximate 50% rate of reported poison incidents in the last year was consistent for all socio-demographic groups.
Only 51% of all respondents had heard of the Poison Center. Only 48.1% of all low-income parents had heard of the Poison Center where 59.9% of all higher income mothers had heard of it.
The breakdown of Poison Center awareness for the low-income group resulted
in the following:
53.3% of African American parents had heard of the Poison Center.
46.0% of Hispanic bilingual parents had heard of the Poison Center.
45.5% of Hispanic monolingual parents had heard of the Poison Center.
The majority of parents had learned about the Poison Center through their pediatricians, only the Hispanic Monolingual group reported having heard about it through the Women, Children and Infants (WIC) programs.
All groups concurred that knowing that the Poison Center staff are “trained experts in poisoning” was the most important feature.
When asked to describe what an emergency is, focus group participants indicated this was any situation they perceived as life-threatening. An emergency equaled impending tragedy, instinctively precipitating a call to 911, or a trip to the ED. However, they indicated they had few dependable resources to help manage potentially unsafe situations quickly, appropriately and without fuss at home. The CPCS can fill this void, offering consumers the rapid expert help and reassurance they seek.
Developing a new visual identity specifically targeting the end user to cultivate a consistent, recognizable image that advanced our core message was critical. This identity addressed consumer perception and harnessed universal themes so as to resonate across social, economic and cultural lines.
Resources were invested in qualitative testing to identify significant variations between these two groups. Monolingual and low-English proficiency Latino consumers indicated they would use the service if they had a more robust understanding of precisely what happens when you call. Although consumers from other target groups expressed a general desire for more information, Monolingual and low-English proficiency audiences sought more detail and reassurance about the call-in process. To learn more about understanding these consumer groups click here.
Identifying credible sources for the dissemination of our core message is an essential part in securing consumer confidence.
Prospective organizations were and continue to be assessed based on their mission, organizational structure and effectiveness, program objectives, scope and frequency of services, funding source, process, methodology and perceived image. The education program has defined a manageable number and category of organizations that closely match the CPCS mission, serve its target audiences, operate efficiently and have earned the respect of those they seek to serve.
In researching potential allies, two categories of partnership were identified – education service and response, or “hotline” service. Education service partners are those whose mission includes preventing childhood injury and/or teaching preventive strategies. These organizations are provided with thorough, on-going consultation on incorporating CPCS poison prevention information within their existing platform. Consultations with individual partners determine customized tools and methods for effective delivery of the CPCS message. In helping education partners achieve their own missions, the CPCS accomplishes its goal of becoming the leading source for poison prevention information in California, both the public and health professionals.
The response, or “hotline”, service supplies standard materials to organizations with accessible distribution networks whose customers are part of the CPCS target audience.
In order to achieve its goals for awareness and utilization, the CPCS has harmonized activities and institute unified outreach initiatives. Strategic associations with key partners, who are credible sources of poison prevention information with existing distribution networks, access to our target audience, and sound organizational structures, are critical to success. In alignment with this new strategy, the education program has a tighter focus - building relationships, ranking, prioritizing and realizing opportunities, targeting activities, and allocating resources so as to make the best use of time and money.
© CPCS and Regents, University of California. 2000-2015
Disclaimer: This web site is designed to be informational and educational. Under no circumstance is this web site meant to replace the expert advice of a qualified poison specialist or physician. In the event of a poison emergency, call the nearest poison center immediately by dialing 1-800-222-1222 or contact 9-1-1 emergency services.