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As Sepsis Cases Rise in U.S. Hospitals, How Can Data Help?

ESO Staff

Sepsis is on the rise in the United States, according to a recent federal study, with the number of diagnosed cases tripling in the last decade. And at a hefty cost of an average $18,000 per stay – and with risks that make sepsis one of the top causes for hospital deaths (representing 50% of hospital deaths) – hospital administrators and key decision-makers are taking notice.

Many patients often wait too long to be seen for sepsis, believing it is a less-serious disease, and must undergo emergency ICU care, pushing the overall cost of sepsis treatment higher and higher as the general population ages.

Researchers, originally trying to ascertain the cause for increased hospital inpatient costs over the last 10 years, discovered the dramatic uptick in sepsis cases, which are significantly more expensive to treat compared to other diseases. However, additional findings suggest that the sepsis situation is a bit more complicated than it first appears.

For example, diagnosed cases of pneumonia – a disease many times associated with sepsis and oftentimes a precursor – have decreased by one third during the same time-frame. Additionally, a recent report from the CDC suggests that while there are more than 1.67 million cases of sepsis annually, the number has remained relatively stable since 2009, suggesting that those cases have been there all along, although perhaps misdiagnosed. Physicians and staff may simply be getting better at recognizing sepsis in their patients.

In any case, sepsis cases are currently a top reason for hospital stays, second only to pregnancy and childbirth. Researchers explain if the increase in sepsis cases was simply a matter of coding or reporting, the statistics would reflect a sharp spike year over year. Instead, the number of sepsis hospital stays has been on a steady rise for a decade, suggesting a true increase. Other reports found that sepsis is also a leading cause of readmission to hospitals after release.

Correctly diagnosing sepsis as quickly as possible has numerous benefits to both patients and hospital staff. Sepsis is typically a tricky disease to diagnose, with no single test available to identify it. Its fast-moving nature requires immediate treatment with antibiotics to prevent body-wide infection, organ damage, and even death. Obtaining the right treatment for a sepsis patient as quickly as possible is imperative to increasing their chances of survival, especially in at-risk populations.

Similarly, hospitals with better treatment records not only save more lives but also improve their national rankings and performance metrics. Additionally, accurately earmarking sepsis cases allows hospitals to be more efficiently reimbursed for the high cost of treating sepsis, which is almost three times as expensive as treating a disease like pneumonia. According to Bloomberg, sepsis cases in the U.S. represent more than $27 million.

Improved medical reporting technology and data sharing tools like Health Data Exchange (HDE) software from ESO Solutions are helping hospitals across the nation by making it easier to record and review patient information, from first medical contact to discharge. For example, evidence-based screening tools can help EMS providers rapidly identify patients suffering from sepsis and begin life-saving treatments, such as emergent blood pressure stabilization with IV fluids and medications.  The data shared from EMS to hospitals via HDE allow a continuity of care such that hospitals immediately are aware of the care provided by EMS and can choose appropriate further therapies rather than repeat treatments already implemented. These electronic records track a patient from their first interaction with EMS staff, to when they are released from care, allowing medical staff to focus on the care of the patient rather than spending valuable time dealing with outdated or redundant tracking tools.

The resulting records are easily stored and available for more efficient audits and accreditation reviews, helping ensure that administrators are making the most of their resources, are alerted to areas for improvement, and, ultimately, are providing the best care possible to patients. Freeing up staff to focus on medical care rather than record-keeping can make a lifesaving difference in fast-moving diseases like sepsis.

As physicians and administrators continue to keep a close eye on the sepsis epidemic, the hope is that diagnosis will continue to come more quickly, and more lives will be saved from this life-threatening disease that so easily hides behind other symptoms.

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