Healthcare News & Insights

Study: Sepsis tops list for readmissions

Although the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) doesn’t judge hospitals specifically on their performance with readmissions due to sepsis, it may be on the horizon for the feds in the near future. This is especially true given new research showing just how many readmissions can be attributed to the illness. 

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), complications associated with sepsis cause more readmissions than any of the four conditions tracked by CMS (heart attack, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and pneumonia).

High readmission rates, costs

A news release from the University of Pittsburgh (which conducted the study along with the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System) stated that sepsis is the number one illness that kills patients in hospitals. And even with patients who survive, complications can put them at serious risk once their treatment ends.

When comparing sepsis readmission rates to rates for the four conditions watched by CMS, sepsis readmissions far outnumbered those for each illness. Out of over 1 million readmissions, over 147,000 patients had a diagnosis of sepsis, compared to about 15,000 for heart attacks, 79,480 for heart failure, 54,396 for COPD and 59,378 for pneumonia.

Patients’ length of stay was also higher with sepsis than any of these illnesses.

And out of all sepsis-related readmissions, several of those patients also had one of the conditions CMS is watching. While fewer than 1% had heart attacks, 3.4% also had heart failure, 3.3% had COPD and 7.5% had pneumonia. So even if sepsis isn’t tracked directly, the illness can still impact hospitals’ readmission rates for these illnesses.

Past research has indicated that sepsis is costly to treat, and the JAMA study backs up that assertion. The average cost for a sepsis readmission was $10,070. Meanwhile, the average cost was $8,417 for COPD, $9,051 for heart failure, $9,424 for heart attack and $9,533 for pneumonia.

Early detection

In the past, it’s been tough to identify sepsis because of confusion surrounding its symptoms. And that can lead to patients developing serious complications fast.

But the illness has recently been redefined as a condition that develops when the body’s response to an infection ends up damaging its organs and tissues – which should give healthcare providers more clarity about determining if patients are at risk.

Certain changes in vital signs can signify that a patient may be developing sepsis, and some hospitals have customized their electronic health records (EHR) systems to flag these changes so providers can quickly evaluate patients for the condition before it becomes severe.

If that technology isn’t available, providers must be vigilant with monitoring patients to watch for signs of sepsis – especially if it ends up on CMS’ radar for readmissions penalties down the line.

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