Reshaping sepsis pathways
So how can hospitals identify sepsis sooner? Some hospitals have relied more on EMR-based screening methods; others have relied more on nurses to lead the charge. Either way, Dr. Shieh said, the field is trying to encourage the use of set pathways. Almost every medical center that performs well on sepsis measures, she says, has a good screening program, a pathway implemented through an order set or nursing staff, and a highly trained sepsis team that ensures patients get the treatment they need.
At Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, Conn., a major QI project led to significant improvements in sepsis mortality, total mortality, sepsis-related serious safety events and sepsis length of stay., MSN, RN, CPHQ, the hospital’s manager of patient experience and service excellence, said the project sprang from concerns by the hospital’s Rapid Response Review Committee about some serious safety events involving a delay in sepsis diagnosis and treatment.
As part of a QI effort led by an interdepartmental task force, the hospital first updated its inpatient and ED sepsis pathways to incorporate the Surviving Sepsis Campaign’s. “We continued to tweak our pathways, so they’ve now embedded other infection pathways into the sepsis pathway to make sure that we’re not missing anybody,” Ms. Savino said. The hospital also launched an early recognition and treatment educational effort targeting all health care staff and rolled out a new electronic early-warning system in February 2014.
In 2013, the hospital documented three serious safety events related to a delay in diagnosis and treatment of sepsis. In 2014, it recorded only one event and has had none since then. From 2014 to 2015, sepsis-related mortality fell by more than 20%, saving an estimated 25 lives. Sepsis length of stay also declined. “We’re identifying them sooner and treating them sooner so they’re not getting as sick or requiring critical care and longer length of stays,” Ms. Savino said.
Dr. Odden has participated in two multicenter QI initiatives on sepsis. One, a partnership led by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., and New York’s North Shore-LIJ Health System, focused on how to diagnose sepsis in hospital ward patients as quickly as possible and how to successfully deliver the 3-hour sepsis bundle.3 Beyond getting everyone on the same page regarding definitions, he said, the collaborators discussed and shared strategies for identifying patients. “One hospital would often have a solution for a problem that other hospitals could either take directly or modify based on their own understanding of their own processes,” he said.
Dr. Odden also participated in a national project sponsored by the Surviving Sepsis Campaign that focused on developing protocols for nurse-led screening processes in hospital wards. Within a pilot unit of each participating hospital, bedside nurses screened every patient for sepsis during every shift. For positive screens, the hospitals then developed protocols for order sets, like blood work and fluids.
The initiative suggested that a nurse-based, every-shift screening method might be one feasible way to identify sick patients as early as possible. “Going through the screening process really seemed to empower the nurses to take a much more active role in partnering with the physicians and in recognizing some of the early warning signs,” Dr. Odden said. The project led to other benefits as well, including improved identification of strokes, delirium, and even a gastrointestinal bleed because the “barriers in communication had been broken down,” he said.
To help medical providers recognize sepsis earlier, Dr. Shieh and her colleagues created a free game calledas an adjunctive teaching tool. Based on a player’s diagnosis and treatment decisions, patient outcomes either rise or fall – often rapidly. “I’m an educator and what I know is that the best way you learn is by doing,” she said. The interactive and repetitive nature of Septris, she said, helps its take-home messages stick in a player’s mind without the expense of patient simulations. Dr. Shieh said the game has been adapted for German and British medical institutions as well, and that she collects data from players around the world about their experiences and scores.
Winning interdisciplinary buy-in
To maximize the chances for success, several doctors emphasize the importance of forming an interdisciplinary task force that includes every department affected by a QI project. Ms. Savino said executive sponsorship of her hospital’s QI project was key as well. So was meeting frequently with the carefully chosen team members representing key stakeholders throughout the hospital. “It was a lot of work,” she said. “But I really think that was one reason why it was so successful. We had everybody’s buy-in, and we kept our short-term goals on track.”