SAN DIEGO – North Carolina health care workers often failed to provide best-practice follow-up to patients who were released after hospitalization for sepsis, a small study has found. There may be a cost to this gap:
“It’s disappointing to see that we are not providing these seemingly common-sense care processes to our sepsis patients at discharge,” said study lead authorof Atrium Health’s Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, in an interview following the presentation of the study findings at the Critical Care Congress sponsored by the Society of Critical Care Medicine. “We need to develop and implement strategies to improve outcomes for sepsis patients, not just while they are in the hospital, but after discharge as well.”
A 2017 report estimated that 1.7 million adults were hospitalized for sepsis in the United States in 2014, and 270,000 died (. Age-adjusted sepsis death rates in the United States are highest in states in the Eastern and Southern regions, a 2017 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested; North Carolina has the 32nd-worst sepsis death rate in the country (12.4 deaths per 100,000 population).
Dr. Taylor said some recent news about sepsis is promising. “We’ve seen decreasing mortality rates from initiatives that improve the early detection of sepsis and rapid delivery of antibiotics, fluids, and other treatment. However, there is growing evidence that patients who survive an episode of sepsis face residual health deficits. Many sepsis survivors are left with new functional, cognitive, or mental health declines or worsening of their underlying comorbidities. Unfortunately, these patients have high rates of mortality and hospital readmission that persist for multiple years after hospitalization.”
Indeed, a 2013 report linked sepsis to significantly higher mortality risk over 5 years, after accounting for comorbidities. Postsepsis patients were 13 times more likely to die over the first year after hospitalization than counterparts who didn’t have sepsis ().
For the new study, Dr. Taylor said, “we aimed to evaluate current care practices with the hope to identify a postsepsis management strategy that could help nudge these patients towards a more meaningful recovery.”
The researchers retrospectively tracked a random sample of 100 patients (median age, 63 years), who were discharged following an admission for sepsis in 2017. They were treated at eight acute care hospitals in western and central North Carolina and hospitalized for a median of 5 days; 75 were discharged to home (17 received home health services there), 17 went to skilled nursing or long-term care facilities, and 8 went to hospice or another location.
The researchers analyzed whether the patients received four kinds of postsepsis care within 90 days, as recommended by a 2018 review: screening for common functional impairments (53/100 patients received this screening); adjustment of medications as needed following discharge (53/100 patients); monitoring for common and preventable causes for health deterioration, such as infection, chronic lung disease, or heart failure exacerbation (37/100); and assessment for palliative care (25/100 patients) ().
Within 90 days of discharge, 34 patients were readmitted and 17 died. The 32 patients who received at least two recommended kinds of postsepsis care were less likely to be readmitted or die (9/32) than those who got zero or one recommended kind of care (34/68; odds ratio, 0.26; 95% confidence ratio, 0.09-0.82).
In an interview, study coauthor Marc Kowalkowski, PhD, associate professor with Atrium Health’s Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, said he was hesitant to only allocate blame to hospitals or outpatient providers. “Transition out of the hospital is an extremely complex event, involving often fragmented care settings, and sepsis patients tend to be more complicated than other patients. It probably makes sense to provide an added layer of support during the transition out of the hospital for patients who are at high risk for poor outcomes.”
Overall, the findings are “a call for clinicians to realize sepsis is more than just an acute illness. The combination of a growing number of sepsis survivors and the increased health problems following an episode of sepsis creates an urgent public health challenge,” Dr. Taylor said.
Is more home health an important part of a solution? It may be helpful, Dr. Taylor said, but “our data suggest that there really needs to be better coordination to bridge between the inpatient and outpatient transition. We are currently conducting a randomized study to investigate whether these types of care processes can be delivered effectively through a nurse navigator to improve patient outcomes.”
Fortunately, she said, the findings suggest “we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We just have to work on implementation of strategies for care processes that we are already familiar with.”
No funding was reported. None of the study authors reported relevant disclosures.
SOURCE: Taylor SP et al. CCC48, .