J Korean Med Sci.  2021 May;36(18):e118. 10.3346/jkms.2021.36.e118.

Changes in Diagnosis of Poisoning in Patients in the Emergency Room Using Systematic Toxicological Analysis with the National Forensic Service

  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Yonsei University Wonju College of Medicine, Wonju, Korea
  • 2Drug and Forensic Toxicology Division, National Forensic Service, Wonju, Korea


It is difficult to diagnose patients with poisoning and determine the causative agent in the emergency room. Usually, the diagnosis of such patients is based on their medical history and physical examination findings. We aimed to confirm clinical diagnoses using systematic toxicological analysis (STA) and investigate changes in the diagnosis of poisoning.
The Intoxication Analysis Service was launched in June 2017 at our hospital with the National Forensic Service to diagnose intoxication and identify toxic substances by conducting STA. Data were collected and compared between two time periods: before and after the initiation of the project, i.e., from June 2014 to May 2017 and from June 2017 to May 2020.
A total of 492 and 588 patients were enrolled before and after the service, respectively. Among the 588 after-service patients, 446 underwent STA. Among the 492 before-service patients, 69.9% were diagnosed clinically, whereas the causative agent could not be identified in 35 patients. After starting the service, a diagnosis was confirmed in 84.4% of patients by performing a hospital-available toxicological analysis or STA.Among patients diagnosed with poisoning by toxins identified based on history taking, only 83.6% matched the STA results, whereas 8.4% did not report any toxin, including known substances. The substance that the emergency physician suspected after a physical examination was accurate in 49.3% of cases, and 12% of cases were not actually poisoned. In 13.4% of patients who visited the emergency room owing to poisoning of unknown cause, poisoning could be excluded after STA. Poisoning was determined to be the cause of altered mental status in 31.5% of patients for whom the cause could not be determined in the emergency room.
A diagnosis may change depending on the STA results of intoxicated patients. Therefore, appropriate STA can increase the accuracy of diagnosis and help in making treatment decisions.


Toxicology; Poisoning; Laboratory Diagnosis; Forensic Toxicology
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