Improving Sepsis Care: Three Paths to Better Outcomes

Article Summary


Sepsis affects at least 1.7 million U.S. adults per year, making it a pivotal improvement opportunity for healthcare organizations. The condition, however, has proven problematic for health systems. Common challenges including differentiating between sepsis and a patient’s acute illness and data access. In response, organizations must have comprehensive, timely data and advanced analytics capabilities to understand sepsis within their populations and monitor care programs. These tools can help organizations identify sepsis, intervene early, save lives, and sustain improvements over time.

improving sepsis care

During the COVID-19 pandemic, medical attention has heavily focused on treating affected patients and preventing or slowing transmission. Meanwhile, non-COVID-19 diseases and conditions have continued to impact healthcare consumers, demanding that providers maintain and enhance strategies around other serious conditions.

Sepsis, for example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, affects at least 1.7 million U.S. adults each year. Additionally, almost 270,000 Americans die due to sepsis, and one in three patients who dies in a hospital has sepsis. The disease costs health systems more than $24 billion annually.

With such a broad and significant impact, improving care programs can help organizations better care for their patients and improve financial outcomes in the COVID-19 era and beyond. Data- and analytics-powered strategies to identify sepsis and intervene early can help health systems reduce sepsis burden on their populations and care teams, freeing up resources for emerging challenges and saving lives.

Three Ways Health Systems Are Improving Sepsis Care

Health systems can use data and analytics to improve sepsis outcomes, from increased early detection to decreased mortality, and sustain those improvements:

Improving Identification of Patients with Sepsis

Prompt identification of sepsis allows for timely intervention, often a critical part of outcomes improvement. However, healthcare providers often struggle to differentiate between sepsis and a patient’s acute illness. Data quality and coding issues around the condition also make the early diagnosis of sepsis challenging. In response, health systems can use timely, focused data to gain a comprehensive view of sepsis at their facilities, including identifying the disease early in its course.

For example, Mission Health of Asheville, North Carolina, used data analytics to implement better identification and early intervention for inpatients who potentially had sepsis. The health system used the Health Catalyst Data Operating System (DOS™) and an analytics application focused on sepsis management to access timely data and support early sepsis intervention. As a result, the organization achieved a 45.3 percent relative reduction in severe sepsis and septic shock among inpatients and a 14.4 percent relative reduction in length of stay.

Reducing Sepsis Mortality with Early Intervention

Even organizations that follow evidence-based sepsis care protocols often have higher-than-acceptable mortality rates from the disease. In such cases, health systems need more in-depth insight into their sepsis care performance and an analytics-driven strategy to improve outcomes.

For example, Indiana-based Community Health Network (CHNw) implemented an analytics platform (DOS) and an analytics accelerator to better understand gaps in their sepsis care that might contribute to worse outcomes. The health system incorporated evidence-based order sets for sepsis care into its EMR and optimized the order sets to align with the emergency department provider workflow.

By monitoring performance for and adherence to sepsis process measures, such as the timely administration of antibiotics, and intervening when care didn’t meet these standards, CHNw prevented 120 sepsis-related deaths. The organization’s sepsis improvement initiative also resulted in $5.5 million in savings.

Leveraging Data to Sustain Sepsis Improvements

After a health system improves its sepsis mortality rates, its next challenge is maintaining that improvement. Organizations can sustain improved sepsis care by using the same data platforms and analytics applications that enable its initial improvements to monitor and measure ongoing performance.

In one example of sustained sepsis improvement, Thibodaux Regional Health System has used the sepsis analytics accelerator to ensure it maintains its improvements around the timely identification and treatment of sepsis. The organization’s sepsis care transformation team uses the analytics accelerator to continually inform providers and nursing care staff about their performance. As a result, Thibodaux regional has sustained its 36.4 percent relative reduction in the sepsis mortality rate for more than three years.

Data and Analytics Enable Short- and Long-Term Sepsis Improvement

With more than one million individuals impacted and billions of healthcare dollars spent per year, sepsis is a formidable concern among healthcare consumers and providers. However, as health system experiences show, data- and analytics-based strategies can help organizations drive down sepsis mortality rates and costs and sustain those improvements over time.

Additional Reading

Would you like to learn more about this topic? Here are some articles we suggest:

  1. A More Accurate Sepsis Identification Method: Leveraging Physiological Data
  2. The Top Six Examples of Quality Improvement in Healthcare
  3. Six Ways Health Systems Use Analytics to Improve Patient Safety
  4. Six Steps to Managing an Infection Control Breach
  5. Transforming Healthcare Analytics: Five Critical Steps

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