Patient Care

Sepsis Diagnoses Are Common in ED, but Many Septic Patients in the ED Do Not Receive Antibiotics


Clinical question: Has the frequency of sepsis rates, along with administration of antibiotics in U.S. emergency departments (EDs), changed over time?

Background: Prior studies reviewing discharge data from hospitals suggest an increase of sepsis over time; however, little epidemiological research has evaluated the diagnosis of sepsis and antibiotic use in ED settings.

Study design: Retrospective, four-stage probability sample.

Setting: National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS).

Synopsis: The NHAMCS includes a sample of all U.S. ED visits, except federal, military, and VA hospitals. According to NHAMCS data, an estimated 1.3 billion visits by adults to U.S. EDs occurred from 1994-2009, or approximately 81 million visits per year. Explicit sepsis was defined by the presence of the following, with ICD-9 codes: septicemia (038), sepsis (995.91), severe sepsis (995.92), or septic shock (785.52). Implicit sepsis was defined as a code indicating infection plus a code indicting organ dysfunction.

In U.S. EDs, explicit sepsis did not become more prevalent from 1994-2009; however, implicitly diagnosed sepsis increased by 7% every two years. There were 260,000 explicit sepsis-related ED visits per year, or 1.23 visits per 1,000 U.S. population. In-hospital mortality was 17% and 9% for the explicit and implicit diagnosis groups, respectively. On review of the explicit sepsis group, only 61% of the patients were found to have received antibiotics in the ED. The rate did increase over the time studied, from 52% in 1994-1997 to 69% in 2006-2009.

The study was limited by the retrospective analysis of data not designed to track sepsis or antibiotic use.

Bottom Line: Explicitly recognized sepsis remained stable in the ED setting from 1994-2009, and early antibiotic use has improved during this time, but there is still much opportunity for improvement.

Citation: Filbin MR, Arias SA, Camargo CA Jr, Barche A, Pallin DJ. Sepsis visits and antibiotic utilization in the U.S. emergency departments. Crit Care Med. 2014;42(3):528-535.

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