Healthcare News & Insights

Sepsis nurses help hospitals boost outcomes

Many hospitals have had difficulty getting a handle on sepsis. The disease harms thousands of patients each year, and statistics show it’s one of the leading causes of death in hospitals. To dampen its effects, some facilities have started tackling sepsis with additional assistance from specially trained nurses. 

A recent article in Kaiser Health News discusses the strategy in detail, using a hospital in California as an example.

At St. Joseph Hospital, a handful of nurses are designated to respond to patients suspected of having sepsis. Nurses identify patients with the condition and administer the appropriate treatment.

Each nurse uses a sepsis checklist that’s been approved by the hospital’s health system, St. Joseph Hoag Health, to provide the necessary medical interventions to patients as quickly as possible, since patients with sepsis who are treated right away have better outcomes. A mobile app also helps clinical staff coordinate sepsis treatment as soon as possible.

Within a few hours of identifying potential sepsis cases, nurses check patients’ blood, give them antibiotics and IV fluids, and monitor vital signs for any critical changes.

At St. Joseph’s Hospital, all patients who may have sepsis are monitored for at least 24 hours. The sepsis nurse meets with each patient, giving them information about sepsis and answering any questions they may have about the condition.

Along with treating patients, sepsis nurses also act as liaisons between families and clinical staff, letting them know what they should expect from the patient in various stages of the recovery phase.

Improvements for patients

For St. Joseph Hoag Health, its targeted effort has been successful with improving patients’ outcomes from sepsis.

The health system first started using dedicated sepsis nurses in its hospitals in 2015. It typically sees about 8,000 sepsis cases each year, at a cost of approximately $130 million. In just the program’s first year, death rates for severe cases of sepsis decreased from 15% to 12%. For all cases of sepsis, mortality rates went from 12% to 9%. Lengths of stay have also decreased.

Along with sepsis nurses, some facilities have onsite sepsis coordinators. They not only direct the sepsis treatment program, but also keep track of any sepsis-related data and provide supplemental training to clinical staff on best practices for identifying and treating sepsis.

Targeting sepsis

Having a specific, systematic approach to sepsis is key to patients’ survival. This reduces the chance of patients with symptoms of sepsis falling through the cracks and becoming critically ill – or being readmitted within 30 days due to sepsis-related complications.

Hospitals must regularly review and refine their sepsis protocols. Because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is focusing more of its efforts on sepsis identification and prevention, it’s crucial for hospitals to have a strategy in place to treat the illness quickly and aggressively. Specially trained nurses can bolster a hospital’s sepsis treatment program.

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