ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Call Center Spotlight: Georgia Poison Control

Imagine you’re at a family holiday and you realize that your child or your dog –- or even your knucklehead brother-in-law – has swallowed something toxic (no, your mother-in-law’s Jell-O salad probably doesn’t count). Time is ticking -- what’s the first thing you do? Smart people call Poison Control. But what happens if there’s a mass of exposures to toxins, or if your cat ate arsenic during a tornado?

Georgia Poison Control Center
At a Glance


HOURS OF OPERATION: 24 x 7 x 365


SERVICES PROVIDED: Poison emergency treatment information service, providing assistance and expertise in the medical diagnosis and management of human and animal poisonings.

CHANNELS HANDLED: Phone (with Language Line access that provides translation services in more than 140 languages and telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDD) services available for the hearing impaired.

NUMBER OF CONTACTS HANDLED: Approximately 200,000 calls per year.

NOTABLE: In its 40-plus-year history, the GPC has evolved into one of the busiest and most up-to-date front-line response toxicology information centers in the country and is the only designated Regional Poison Control Center in Georgia.

The Georgia Poison Control Center (GPC), affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta, GA, takes calls 24/7, offers advice and guidance – as well as follow up with healthcare providers – free of charge. The call center is staffed by physicians, toxicologists, registered nurses and registered pharmacists and plays a significant role in reducing the cost of treatment and the severity of poisonings where time is of the essence.

To carry out its mission, GPC must be able to put all its subject matter experts to work at any given time and under any circumstance. That’s where its unified communications (UC) solution comes into play.

“Our center can’t be down,” says Dr. Gaylord Lopez, GPC director. “The hybrid landline/IP phone capability we have with our ShorTel unified communication solution allows us to reach out to call center staff at home and to send them home in the event of a disaster.”

Callers in queue receive potentially life-saving advice from the next available operator, many of whom may even work remotely from their homes to help deal with increased call volumes during a healthcare panic. Between one quarter and one third of GPC representatives work at home, and in the more recent case of a gas main break and subsequent evacuation of the building where GPC is located, Lopez says the ShoreTel system allowed him to send staff home to work – and bridge some calls to a partner center in North Carolina.

This hybrid phone system allows calls to enter the center via VOIP and be delivered to its destination – home agents or a partner center – via landline. But the most important thing that GPC looked at when evaluating UC solutions was call quality.

“We looked at the usual suspects when we were evaluating systems, and ShorTel had the best price – and we look at that, but the most important thing they offered was good call quality,” says Lopez. “We absolutely have to be able to have a clear conversation with the person on the other end of that line.”

Not only does GPC’s new UC solution allow remote working, it also allows the center to address surge. ShoreTel Contact Center 5.1 lets the Georgia Poison Control Center supervisors plan for peak activity periods and scale back when work slows. Supervisors know when agents are logging in or out for work or breaks and can schedule efficiently while ensuring that customer calls are managed effectively. Interestingly, this solution attacks a problem that the Center for Disease Control has already asked state poison control centers to address.

Next up for GPC and ShorTel is testing for Web chat and text. But as they work on this, there are many eyes on what GPC is doing. “The state’s Public Health Administration has asked if we could use our UC system to route calls and ramp up response in the event of a pandemic, such as H1N1. With our current capabilities and the work we’ve been doing with ShorTel on third-party IVRs and SIP trunks in their platform, we’ll be able to do that.”

Layne Holley is Director of Community Services for ICMI. [email protected]