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How health IT is turning the tide against sepsis

Sepsis contributes to one out of every three hospital deaths. It is also the most expensive condition that U.S. hospitals treat. But the incidence of sepsis and related mortality has remained stable over the past several years, in part because health IT systems are doing more to help prevent and address it.

The signs of sepsis, the immune system’s extreme response to infection, are highly variable. Studies show that each hour of delay in detecting abnormal signs in patients with sepsis increases mortality rates.

An electronic health record (EHR) system that is constantly monitoring and evaluating patient data can help clinicians more quickly identify the condition and intervene earlier with treatment. There are multiple opportunities within hospital workflows to assess and manage care for patients with sepsis.

One of our clients delivers several tools to its clinicians within the EHR, such as an early warning system, a sepsis screen nurses can use at triage or the bedside, clinical decision support and evidence-based job aids to standardize treatment, emergency department order sets, and surveillance and auditing tools that track adherence to sepsis protocols and enable quality improvement.

Working with a data sciences team, this client confirmed several statistically significant results, including:

  • Drop in length of stay over time
  • Inverse relationship between order set use and length of stay, inferring more standardization of care
  • Inverse relationship between mortality and documented “time zero” events (when sepsis is first captured in the EHR), inferring sepsis being detected earlier

Executives also noted that the organization saw a favorable reduction in cost for sepsis patients.

There is clear evidence that EHRs can help clinicians recognize sepsis and start treatment sooner. Many organizations we work with have implemented sepsis protocols that have saved lives, for example:

  • Methodist Hospital of Southern California alerts physicians when patient symptoms meet evidence-based criteria for sepsis and triggers order sets in the emergency department triage area. As a result, the organization has reduced its sepsis mortality rate to below 20%.
  • University Hospitals health system based in Cleveland implemented a toolkit and early warning system alert that has reduced overall sepsis mortality by 30%, which saved 205 lives in its first two years.

These organizations are showing real progress in the fight against sepsis. They’re saving lives.

What we do in health IT matters

Now the industry needs to put these lessons into practice. Whether it is refinements to early warning systems, triggers for nurses and doctors to screen at-risk patients, or specific audit tools that help elucidate a better understanding of events over time, health IT companies must incorporate and share these learnings through their solutions and services.

People use health IT systems every day to make clinical decisions. It’s up to us to continuously improve the solutions that clinicians use to identify, prevent, treat and manage diseases. Only then can we achieve better outcomes, improve patient experience and lower the cost of care.

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