HealthJune 05, 2023

Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) and SEP-1: What you should know

Last updated: August 11, 2023

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has finalized its proposal for including the SEP-1 quality measure in its Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program.

Improving sepsis care improves the bottom line.

Sepsis is the most expensive and resource-intensive medical inpatient condition. It is consistently in the top five for hospital case volumes, is among the worst cases for cost of care vs. reimbursement, and drives significant total cost of care as patients with severe sepsis or septic shock often have significant post-sepsis care needs. Approximately 2/3 of sepsis cases are paid by CMS, and with the significant impact of sepsis on total cost and patient outcomes, CMS has focused on sepsis quality for years via the SEP-1 quality measure.

Hospitals have reported SEP-1 via the Inpatient Quality Program since 2018, but now it has been added to the Value-Based Purchasing program as a measure in the Safety Domain. With this change to VBP, there are direct financial implications for your hospital's sepsis performance

What is SEP-1?

SEP-1 (The Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock Management Bundle) is a quality measure that establishes a treatment protocol for clinicians treating sepsis. SEP-1 is a multi-step measure that focuses on timely sepsis recognition and early intervention to improve patient outcomes. The emphasis on early treatment is critically important, as with each hour of delay before treatment risk of mortality for patients with sepsis increases by about 8%.

SEP-1 Compliance is proven to improve care outcomes

Numerous studies prove that the use of the SEP-1 bundle improves patient outcomes.

  • A 2019 study revealed patients treated according to protocols were 15% less likely to die than those patients whose care did follow the protocols.
  • A 2022 study found that compliance with SEP-1 was associated with lower 30-day mortality and lengths of stay.

Why do hospitals struggle to achieve SEP-1 compliance?

The SEP-1 measure is a complex, multi-step bundle of care measure that requires care steps that are delivered over several hours. Although evidence supports the importance of delivering care according to SEP-1 nationwide, the average SEP-1 bundle compliance rate is only 50%. More than 80% of sepsis cases treated in the hospital are detected in the Emergency Department (ED), and as sepsis patients are transferred to the floor for treatment without technology to help them, the team may lose sight of their SEP-1 timeline.

A few key challenges hospitals face with SEP-1 include the following:

  • It can be difficult to identify the early signs of sepsis to begin treatment
  • The sepsis bundle has multiple steps with specific timelines, and tracking progress against bundle requirements in real-time in a busy hospital is challenging
  • Care teams lack real-time management tools to help them track the steps of the bundle and deliver evidence-based protocols on time.

How is SEP-1 being introduced to VBP?

Medicare’s VBP Program measures hospital performance across four program domains: Clinical Outcomes, Personal and Community Engagement, Safety, and Efficiency and Cost Reduction. SEP-1 has been added to the Safety Domain with calendar year 2024 as the first performance year.  Sepsis has always been a significant financial driver, but with its inclusion in VBP, poor performance can have an even bigger impact. Poor total performance for VBP can result in penalties, but the good news is that high performance can result in payment bonuses. As mentioned, various studies have shown that higher SEP-1 compliance can lower length of stay (LOS), mortality, and readmissions – all of which improve a hospital’s bottom line. Studies have demonstrated decreased length of stay, fewer days in the ICU, and lower rates of complications, leading to potential cost savings, which may mean that improving SEP-1 performance could also benefit a hospital by improving performance on the Efficiency and Cost Reduction domain's total cost measure.

VBP Program participation is mandatory, and quality results can affect hospital payments. Hospitals that perform well receive a bonus funded by the hospitals that do poorly. Results are publicly reported via 

How can I prepare my hospital to improve SEP-1 performance?

Quality leaders must proactively manage SEP-1 to increase or sustain improvements. It is a complex measure that requires active management to comply with. With 2024 as the first performance period that will include SEP-1, there's really no time to waste. Hospitals should start now to increase their focus on having the right people in key roles to support performance improvement, intentionally designing processes that drive performance, and implementing technology that can automate sepsis identification and SEP-1 monitoring as three interdependent factors in improving sepsis performance.


It’s essential to ensure the right people on your team are engaged – primarily the sepsis coordinator – working alongside other team members, including providers, nursing, abstractors, coders, and quality management. Ongoing training and feedback on sepsis care make clinicians aware of and hold them accountable for best practices.


Creating efficient sepsis workflows and order sets throughout the hospital – not just the emergency department and intensive care unit – provides dedicated clinicians with solid systemic support.


Identifying and implementing the right sepsis surveillance technology supports your people and processes to optimize sepsis care. A sophisticated sepsis surveillance solution offers two components necessary to achieve sepsis improvements: 1) it identifies sepsis patients early and accurately, and 2) it delivers timely alerts to care teams about the hospital’s sepsis care policies. By watching over the entire patient population and accurately alerting clinicians with guidance on best care steps, technology helps optimize care every hour of the day, 365 days a year.

SEP-1 performance is achievable

Top-tier SEP-1 performance is achievable if hospital teams are supported with the right focus from senior leadership, technology to help identify and ensure proactive management of SEP-1 care, and access to analytics and reporting to help teams focus where improvement is most needed.

Hospitals achieve top quartile SEP-1 performance by using Sentri7® Sepsis Monitor to improve patient identification, deliver timely SEP-1 bundle care, and proactively manage patients through their stay and staff transition.

Case Study: Conway Regional Medical Center improved SEP-1 bundle compliance by more than 20% in four months. 

Read The Case Study

The content provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should be taken as, the authoritative source for any subject matter contained herein. Wolters Kluwer is not in the business of providing legal or other expert or professional advice or guidance and nothing herein is intended to be, nor should be taken as, any such advice or guidance.

Dr. Itay Klaz is responsible for directing clinical efforts toward the development, implementation and support of Wolters Kluwer Sepsis Surveillance software solutions.
Sentri7® Sepsis Monitor
Sentri7 Sepsis Monitor provides early detection and ongoing management for hospitalized patients with sepsis.
Sepsis Monitor's continuous 24/7, automated clinical surveillance finds patients early and accurately, and empowers timely delivery of evidence-based care to improve patients' outcomes and hospitals' quality and financial performance.
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