Quality Improvement Initiative Targets Sepsis


A quality improvement (QI) initiative at University Hospital in Salt Lake City aims to save lives and cut hospital costs by reducing inpatient sepsis mortality.

Program co-leaders, hospitalists Devin Horton, MD, and Kencee Graves, MD, of University Hospital, launched the initiative as a pilot program last October. They began by surveying hospital house staff and nurses on their ability to recognize and define six different sepsis syndromes from clinical vignettes. A total of 136 surveyed residents recognized the correct condition only 56% of the time, and 280 surveyed nurses only did so 17% of the time. The hospitalists determined that better education about sepsis was crucial.

“We developed a robust teaching program for nurses and residents using Septris, an online educational game from Stanford University,” Dr. Horton says. The team also developed technology that can recognize worsening vital signs in a patient and automatically trigger an alert to a charge nurse or rapid response team.

The team’s Modified Early Warning System (MEWS) for recognizing sepsis is similar to the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) system used at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the University of California San Diego, and draws on other hospitals’ sepsis systems. Dr. Horton says one difference in their system is the involvement of nursing aides who take vital signs, enter them real-time into electronic health records (EHR), and receive prompts from abnormal vital signs to retake all vitals and confirm abnormal results. It also incorporates EHR decision support tools, including links to pre-populated medical order panels, such as for the ordering of tests for lactate and blood cultures.

“We developed a robust teaching program for nurses and residents using Septris, an online educational game from Stanford University.” –Dr. Horton

“Severe sepsis is often quoted as the number one cause of mortality among hospitalized patients, with a rate up to 10 times that of acute myocardial infarction,” Dr. Horton explains. “The one treatment that consistently decreases mortality is timely administration of antibiotics. But, in order for a patient to be given timely antibiotics, the nurse or resident must first recognize that the patient has sepsis.”

“This is one of the biggest and most far-reaching improvement initiatives that has been done at our institution,” says Robert Pendleton, MD, chief quality officer at University Hospital. Dr. Horton says he predicts the program will “save 50 lives and $1 million per year.”

For more information, contact him at: [email protected].

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