With diseases like heart failure, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, and diabetes at the center of attention in our high-cost healthcare system, it may be shocking to learn that sepsis is the leading cause of death within U.S. hospitals. In fact, one-third of all patients who die in the hospital die with sepsis. According to Bloomberg, sepsis is a $27 billion problem for the U.S., with the CDC reporting more than 1.5 million Americans annually diagnosed with sepsis and 250,000 of them dying each year from the disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis
The CDC states that “sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection.” It often occurs after common infections, such as pneumonia or other lung infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs), gut infections, or skin infections. In fact, a third of sepsis diagnoses occur after a lung infection, while a quarter after a UTI or kidney infection. Tissue damage, organ failure, and ultimately death are all complications of sepsis if it is not identified and treated promptly.
An easy-to-remember acronym of SEPSIS to recognize the signs and symptoms of sepsis could be what saves a life within your hospital or healthcare facility.
S – Shivering, fever, or very cold
E – Extreme pain or general discomfort
P – Pale or discolored skin
S – Sleepy, difficult to wake up, confused
I – “I feel like I might die”
S – Short of breath
Recognizing these symptoms is of upmost importance to prevent morbidity and mortality when a patient has sepsis in the hospital.
To diagnose sepsis, clinicians will look for elevated white blood cells or bacteria in a patient’s blood sample along with the signs and symptoms above, while x-rays and scans may show a diagnosis of pneumonia or other localized infections within the body. Sepsis is generally treated as a medical emergency, and patients with a diagnosis are moved to more intensive areas of the hospital. It is imperative that their vital signs are continuously monitored until shock and the infectious state improve from a treatment of antibiotics, fluids, and other necessary interventions.
Four Strategies to Reduce Sepsis in your Organization
1. Focus on infection control.
Preventing infection is the surest way to prevent sepsis. Therefore, it is imperative to make infection control a priority within your organization. This includes increasing staff knowledge around hand washing and hygiene, pneumonia, UTI, and other infection prevention practices, vaccines, and antibiotic stewardship.
2. Make the patient and family part of your sepsis prevention practices.
Patients and families can also spread bacteria throughout your organization. It is important to teach them the above infection control practices to ensure that infections are prevented for themselves and others. Further, patients who are educated and more engaged in their chronic disease management will have less susceptibility to infection.
3. Ensure the quick identification of sepsis.
If necessary, post the SEPSIS acronym around your organization to guarantee that all staff can recognize the signs and symptoms of sepsis. Train them to monitor patients with infections who are at a higher risk of developing sepsis.
4. Treat quickly.
Finally, stress the importance of identifying and treating sepsis promptly and reevaluating often to ensure that signs symptoms are improving on the chosen antibiotics. This is key to preventing death and complications from sepsis.
The Future of Sepsis in U.S. Healthcare
Despite sepsis contributing highly to deaths and healthcare costs, there is a significant data problem when it comes to the ability to track sepsis data and improve outcomes in the U.S.
Dr. Lauren Epstein is a lead author on a CDC study that found the discrepancy between hospital diagnosis codes and death certificates for sepsis vary greatly, leading to a need to standardize the definition of sepsis across the healthcare industry. She believes that a national sepsis surveillance system is what is needed to get a true understanding of the impact of sepsis on our country. She argues that this system should pull directly from medical records to prevent any discrepancies in sepsis identification and coding from providers. However, this will not eliminate the prerequisite for a standardized sepsis definition.
Dr. Stephen Claypool is investigating a system like this in two Alabama and Florida hospitals. His surveillance platform utilizes a computer algorithm to identify when a patient has sepsis based on tests, vital signs, and other documentation. The system can currently identify sepsis in real-time more quickly than many healthcare providers. While the system is great, a national system would require clinicians to agree on when sepsis official begins, with many not wanting to give this diagnosis until symptoms become more severe. However, with early treatment and diagnosis of sepsis as the best way to decrease mortality and morbidity in studies, a national system could be imperative and life-saving.
Sepsis will continue to grow in importance in the United States as individual, organizational, and national measures are put in place to decrease sepsis diagnoses and complications. Implementing necessary protocols within your facility will help you reduce costs, improve reimbursement on federal measures, and improve patient outcomes.
Ready to learn more about providing quality education on important topics, such as sepsis, for your staff?