Healthcare News & Insights

Preventing sepsis: How hospitals can get a handle on this deadly condition

Sepsis is one of the most deadly – and costly – infections patients can contract in hospitals. According to government statistics, over 210,000 Americans die from the illness each year, and the cost of treatment is over $17 billion annually. But hospitals can take some simple steps to curb these infections, and adopting a sepsis protocol is of utmost importance.

135018438One thing hospitals can do to better treat sepsis is to start making the blood test that detects the condition standard for patients who may be at risk for contracting it.

The Mayo Clinic lists some of the risk factors that hospitals should be on the lookout for in patients:

  • Age: The very young or very old are more likely to contract the infection.
  • Physical condition: People who are already very ill with another infection or serious condition, or who have compromised immune systems, are susceptible to the infection. Also, those who have wounds or burns are at risk.
  • Devices: Patients with invasive devices, including catheters and breathing tubes, commonly develop sepsis.

Once the blood test is given to screen for the disease, doctors should be more proactive in providing treatment. In an article in Forbes magazine, Dr. Robert Pearl, CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, writes that while doctors tend to treat patients who have obvious signs of sepsis, other patients whose results are inconclusive tend to be managed with a “wait-and-see” approach.

And that approach kills many patients.

By the time that these patients begin to show signs of sepsis, it’s usually too late. Even aggressive treatment won’t save many patients. The earlier a patient who is at risk for sepsis receives treatment, the better the outcome.

But doctors are often reluctant to begin treatment for patients who may have inconclusive sepsis test results. Why? Because they fear the repercussions if the course of treatment causes harm to the patient.

This is why it’s important to promote a culture of openness in your hospital where doctors are supported in their decisions to pursue the correct course of treatment for these patients right away. And this can start by adopting an official plan to detect and treat sepsis.

Guidance to establish a sepsis protocol

Most states have no standards for sepsis treatment in hospitals. This year, in response to the death of a young patient, New York became the first state to require its hospitals to adhere to specific protocols when treating sepsis.

Though there are  few state mandates, individual hospitals can create their own sepsis protocol using several resources.

The Surviving Sepsis Campaign, originally created as a worldwide initiative to reduce deaths from sepsis, maintains a database with resources hospitals can use to better evaluate and treat sepsis in patients. Checklists and screening tools are available so doctors can better assess whether sepsis treatment is needed for a patient.

Adhering to these standards has led to success at many hospitals. At Kaiser Permanente, for example, an aggressive early-detection program for sepsis was put into place. It involved testing every patient hospitalized for any infection for sepsis, as well as training staff about how to recognize and treat the condition early on. The program reduced sepsis deaths by nearly 40% over three years.

The program implemented in New York this year sets out similar standards for hospitals.

This makes one thing clear: Being proactive about treating patients for sepsis can save millions in healthcare costs – and save the lives of many patients as well.


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  1. […] can find out how to help keep your loved ones safer from sepsis here, or watch a presentation of preventing sepsis […]