Health Officials Struggle to Identify Sepsis Before It Turns Deadly

Early treatment is vital

A growing number of doctors, hospitals, patient advocates, and state and federal policymakers are pushing to educate consumers and clinicians and to ensure that procedures are followed that focus on the prevention and early detection of sepsis, according to an article posted on the Kaiser Health News (KHN) website.

The article estimates that sepsis––also called septicemia––kills more than 250,000 people every year. People at highest risk are those with weakened immune systems; the very young and elderly; patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney disease; and those with illnesses such as pneumonia or who use catheters that can cause infections. 

In 2013, New York became the first state to require all hospitals to put in place procedures for the early recognition and treatment of sepsis. This month, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a law requiring similar actions by hospitals in that state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is scheduled to release a study about sepsis as part of an effort to draw attention to the importance of prevention and early detection of the disease.

“Early treatment is vital,” said Dr. Anthony Fiore, chief of the epidemiology research and innovations branch at the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “It’s an emergency that you need to deal with, like heart attack and stroke.”

When sepsis advances to septic shock, characterized by severe hypotension, each hour of delay in administering antibiotics reduces the odds of survival by an average 7.6%, one study found.

In 2013, sepsis accounted for $24 billion in hospital costs––the most expensive condition treated. Up to half of people who develop sepsis die. Many cases are related to health care, such as catheter use or an infection acquired in the hospital, but large numbers come from outside the hospital as well, the KHN article notes.

As the front line in identifying these cases, emergency departments typically have sepsis protocols in place to screen for the disease.

“The work you do in those first three to six hours in the emergency department makes more difference in cost than the whole next several weeks in the ICU,” Dr. Todd L. Slesinger, emergency medicine residency program director at Aventura Hospital and Medical Center in Aventura, Florida, told KHN.

Last fall, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services started requiring hospitals to measure and report on efforts to screen for and treat the illness. In addition, Medicare sets penalties for a variety of hospital-acquired conditions, including high rates of postoperative sepsis.

Patient advocates and policymakers agree that patients themselves are key to improving prevention and early detection of sepsis. Good hygiene can help prevent sepsis, including cleaning wounds. If a person gets injured, he or she should look for signs of sepsis, including rapid breathing or heart rate, confusion, fever or chills, and pale or discolored skin.

Source: Kaiser Health News; August 23, 2016.