Sepsis Threat Calls for Better Education, Advocacy Group Says

Study finds septicemia is most expensive condition to treat in U.S.

The Sepsis Alliance, an advocacy group based in San Diego, California, has called for greater public education about sepsis (septicemia) in the wake of a recent report that found that blood infection is the most expensive inpatient condition. The group is calling attention to a U.S. government study that reported that annual costs for treating sepsis in hospitals increased more than $3.4 billion during a two-year period. The study, which analyzed billings from 2011 to 2013, found that sepsis accounted for $23.7 billion in annual costs, or 6.2% of the aggregate costs for all hospitalizations, making it the most expensive condition to treat in the U.S. health care system.

Other high-cost hospitalizations were for osteoarthritis ($16.5 billion [4.3%]); newborn infants ($13.3 billion [3.5%]); complications of a device, implant, or graft ($12.4 billion [3.3%]), and acute myocardial infarction ($12.1 billion [3.2%]). 

It has been estimated that sepsis kills 258,000 people in the U.S. every year, or one person every two minutes.

The impact of sepsis on the U.S. health care system was reported in a June 2016 statistical brief from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The study found that while total hospital-care expenditures have remained fairly stable, spending for sepsis care rose by 19% from 2011 to 2013––more than double the rate for all hospitalizations.

The study also found that the mean expense per stay associated with those hospitalizations was more than $18,000 in 2013, making hospitalizations from sepsis 70% more expensive than the average inpatient stay. Sepsis accounted for nearly 1.3 million discharges that year from U.S. hospitals––an increase of 19% from 2011.

Sepsis (septicemia) was also the most expensive condition billed to Medicare in 2013, with aggregate hospital costs of $14.5 billion (8.2% of national costs). Septicemia was the second most expensive condition billed to Medicaid in 2013, after newborns, with aggregate hospital costs of $3.4 billion (5.3% of national costs). It was the fourth most expensive condition billed to private insurance in 2013, following osteoarthritis, newborns, and back problems, such as spondylosis and intervertebral disc disorders, with aggregate hospital costs of $4.0 billion (3.7% of national costs).

Even though hospitalizations are increasing, most Americans still don’t know what sepsis is or how to treat it, according to the Sepsis Alliance. The group’s most recent sepsis survey found that less than one-half of adult Americans have ever heard of sepsis. The number was even lower among younger adults.

“Early recognition of the symptoms of sepsis combined with prompt administration of fluids and antibiotics can make a huge difference not only in morbidity and mortality, but also in length of hospital stays and health care costs,” said Dr. James O’Brien, Jr., Medical Director of the Sepsis Alliance. “Now more than ever, it is critical that we raise awareness of sepsis, which will reduce health care costs and, more importantly, save thousands of lives every year.”

Sources: Sepsis Alliance; June 30, 2016; and HCUP; May 2016.