Case study: Automating sepsis alerts at Harborview Medical Center
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September 1, 2018
Using a simple EMR alert, the hospital reduced sepsis fatalities by 41%
Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. The condition is life-threatening, common, and on the rise. In 2014 alone, there were 1.7 million sepsis hospitalizations and 270,000 sepsis deaths in the U.S. And in 2017, it was reported that even though sepsis is only present in 6% of hospitalizations, it accounts for 15% of in-hospital deaths.
Sepsis mortality rates increase quickly when the condition is left untreated, even for just a few hours. However, there isn’t a simple test for sepsis. Instead, providers have to watch for patterns and symptoms that could indicate sepsis. As a result, it’s common to have misdiagnoses or delays in diagnosis.
Sepsis is also the most fatal complication for burn victims, accounting for 50%–60% of burn injury deaths. That last issue is a particular concern for places like Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The 413-bed facility is the only designated Level I trauma and burn center in Washington state and is the regional trauma and burn referral center for Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. It has around 17,000 admissions, 259,000 clinic visits, and 59,000 emergency department visits annually.
Rosemary Grant, BSN, RN, CPHQ, is the sepsis coordinator at Harborview. She says her facility chose to focus on sepsis detection because the condition is “prevalent, expensive, and deadly.”
“When we looked at data from our hospital and others, we saw that patients who develop sepsis in the hospital have a much higher mortality than patients who arrive in the emergency department with sepsis,” Grant says. “So we knew we needed to focus on faster identification of sepsis in our inpatient population.”