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HealthSeptember 20, 2021

What is sepsis and how can clinical data help save lives?

September is National Sepsis Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about this horrendous condition that affects 1.7 million adults each year in the United States.

What exactly is sepsis?

Sepsis is the body’s response to infection, however, it is not a normal response. Sepsis is overwhelming, life-threatening, and toxic.

Our immune system works hard to fight germs to prevent any infection. When an infection does occur, your body will fight it, though you might need the help of an antibiotic or other medication. When sepsis occurs, your immune system stops fighting the germs causing the infection and starts fighting itself.

Sepsis can progress quickly to severe sepsis which includes organ dysfunction and failure. An individual with sepsis can experience difficulty breathing, kidney failure, abnormal liver tests, and changes in their mental cognition. Almost all patients diagnosed with severe sepsis will spend time in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), as it is difficult to reverse the condition’s course, and therefore the mortality rate increases. It is estimated that 270,000 people die from sepsis each year in the U.S.

Due to the complex levels of the disease, sepsis is difficult to detect and is considered the most expensive condition treated in United States hospitals. The average cost per stay for sepsis is double the average for all other conditions. And, as a result, recent research estimates that annual costs of sepsis care totals more than $62 billion.  Additionally, to add to the cost and impact of this condition, sepsis is also the main cause of readmissions in the United States, costing $3.5 billion each year.

The grim fact is that 30% of patients diagnosed with severe sepsis do not survive and up to 50% of sepsis survivors suffer from post sepsis syndrome.  Every hour that sepsis goes untreated, mortality increases by about 8%. Early detection and treatment are essential to save lives and limit disability for those who do survive.

How can we prevent or protect ourselves from sepsis?

Vaccinations

Vaccinations are an important part of sepsis prevention. If we prevent getting ill with an infection in the first place it cannot turn into sepsis. That being said, keeping vaccine and booster schedules current is important for both children and adults.

Wound care

Each cut or break in our skin can allow germs to enter our body and cause an infection. Keep wounds clean and dry; wash your hands before touching an open wound or wear gloves; see your doctor if the wound needs stitches, and if it doesn’t, wash the wound gently with clean water and cover the wound to keep it from getting dirty and irritated.

Properly treating infections

If you are diagnosed with an infection you must take prescribed medications exactly as they are prescribed. Always finish the full course of your medication even if you feel better. And, store your medication correctly to preserve the strength.

Wash hands

Hand washing is the easiest and simplest tool we have in our arsenal to prevent infection. However, it needs to be done correctly. If you are using soap or hand sanitizer wash for 20 seconds. Make sure you are thorough, don’t forget the top of your hands and in between your fingers. Always wash your hands:

  • Before eating or handling food
  • After using the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose or coughing 
  • After touching pets or other animals 
  • After being outside the home, such as playing outside, going to school, or shopping.

Of course, not all infections can be prevented and not all cases of sepsis can be stopped, but by following basic hygiene rules you can decrease your risk significantly.

How clinical data can save lives

Due to the complexity and costly nature of sepsis, early detection is key in order to prevent serious complication and ultimately death. To do this, medical professionals rely on advanced technology and accurate healthcare data to help guide their proactive assistance. Monitoring for sepsis is a complex process, requiring staff to monitor a variety of data points such as, demographics, vital signs, medications, lab values, etc., all coming from and monitored through various data elements whether in the electronic medical report or captured by nurses in free text fields.

The Health Language Clinical Natural Language Processing (cNLP) technology is currently being used to empower clinical intelligence tools which trigger real-time alerts that inform clinicians of patients who indicate needing emergency clinical attention due to severe conditions like sepsis. Much of the information needed for the early detection of sepsis comes from non-standard data in the medical notes. Things like “patient is confused” and is “experiencing fever and chills” can be key to identifying early warning signs of sepsis and therefore early intervention, possibly preventing severe illness or death.

Natural Language Processing that is tuned for extracting specific and valuable insights from clinical notes and codifying them to standard terminologies, can feed data to clinical decision support or alerting tools as notes are being dictated. This can mean the difference between early intervention and potentially life threatening disease.

To learn more about how Health Language solutions can help empower clinical intelligence to detect sepsis, please contact us today.

Learn About Clinical NLP from Health Language
Katherine (Katie) Sutton, RHIT, CCS, ICD-10 Trainer
Senior Content Consultant, Health Language

Katie supports the company’s Health Language solutions and is responsible for updating standard and proprietary content, content monitoring, and SME for coding and billing terminologies.