Patient Safety: 2 Strategies to Battle Sepsis in the ED

Listening to heartbeat

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study  that evaluated medical records of nearly 250 adults and almost 80 children from four New York hospitals. By uncovering common characteristics prevalent among patients with sepsis, the researchers hoped to better understand sepsis and identify strategies to prevent, recognize and treat this threat to patient safety. 

Emergency departments, already take sepsis very seriously. Strict protocols are in place to reduce transmission of pathogens that can lead to sepsis, and sepsis prevention is an important component of an ED’s overall patient safety strategy. But as the rate of sepsis cases continues to increase each year, EDs must revisit the protocols and programs they have in place to prevent this often fatal syndrome from affecting their patients.

Here are two strategies EDs can employ to prevent, reduce and better treat cases of sepsis within the ED.

1. Communicate With At-Risk Patients, Their Caregivers and ED Staff

Increasing awareness of sepsis among your patients and their caregivers is critical to preventing infection. Patients with risk factors for sepsis should be made aware of signs and symptoms. Though symptoms of sepsis often mimic other conditions, if a patient knows the warning signs, sepsis can be treated early and result in more positive outcomes.

Speaking with staff members is also vital to preventing and decreasing sepsis cases. Check in regularly to ensure ED staff are considering the risk factors associated with sepsis when assessing patients and are following established protocols to reduce transmission of pathogens within the ED.

2. Make Early Detection a Priority

Early detection of sepsis is critical for patient safety. Between 28 and 50 percent of the 1 million patients affected by sepsis each year die. If a patient presents with fever, increased heart rate and increased respiratory rate — and sepsis is the cause — early detection can be a matter of life and death. Work with your staff to develop a detailed sepsis plan for early detection in the ED, and reach out to other departments within the hospital to expedite treatment. Though the onset of nearly 80 percent of sepsis cases begins outside of the hospital and ED, many patients the CDC surveyed had visited a healthcare provider prior to infection.

CDC researchers from the study concluded, “While this likely reflects the vulnerability of chronically ill patients to infection, it also suggests that health care facilities and providers could play a central role in sepsis prevention by providing age-appropriate and condition-appropriate vaccination to all patients and optimizing the health status of patients with chronic conditions.”

Early diagnosis and treatment of sepsis in the ED can increase survival rates among patients. And for EDs, continued focus on reducing the transmission of pathogens will decrease cases of sepsis stemming from a patient’s interaction with the ED. Sepsis impacts emergency departments across the country, and being able to combat it effectively is critical to patient safety.  

What strategies has your ED implemented to prevent and reduce sepsis? Comment below, or feel free to drop me a line.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vital Signs: Epidemiology of Sepsis: Prevalence of Health Care Factors and Opportunities for Prevention

National Institute of General Medical Sciences: “Sepsis Fact Sheet"