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Washington Hospital Uses Education and Collaboration to Battle Deadly Sepsis

July 08, 2014

Recent scientific studies show sepsis—the body’s system-wide inflammatory response to infection—is more common and responsible for more deaths in U.S. hospitals than previously thought. Sepsis is a dangerous condition contributing to as many as half of all hospital deaths, according to a recent study released by the American Thoracic Society and another study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Sepsis can start with a simple infection such as a urinary tract infection, skin infection, appendicitis or abscessed tooth. Most of the time, simple infections like these are easy to treat and are limited to just one part of the body; but, there are times when the infection spreads to other areas of the body and sepsis can take hold.

If identified early enough, sepsis can usually be treated effectively. However, if severe sepsis sets in, it can affect the body’s vital organs—the heart, lungs or kidneys. When signs of sepsis are not recognized and appropriate treatment is not started quickly, a patient can lapse into septic shock within a few hours, followed by organ failure and death. In the U.S., between 40 percent and 60 percent of patients who get severe sepsis, die from it.

Sepsis—sometimes referred to as “blood poisoning”—is a major health care concern, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world. Health care experts everywhere are worried about the increased incidence of sepsis and the devastating affect it can have. For example, in Michigan, a new report found that the number of serious blood infections among hospitalized patients has jumped 62 percent in just four years.

People in poor health are vulnerable to sepsis, but healthy people are also at risk. And, sepsis doesn’t just affect older people. In one high profile case in 2009, Brazilian model Mariana Bridi Da Costa died suddenly of severe sepsis at the age of 20.

For more than eight years, Washington Hospital has waged an active battle against sepsis. As a result, the death rate from sepsis among its patients is far lower than the national average.

“Sepsis is one of the more common conditions we see in our Hospital, especially in the intensive care unit (ICU) and emergency department,” said the Hospital’s Nursing Director for Education Katie Choy, R.N. “Washington Hospital has been an early adopter and leader in advancing sepsis care in our community. We have experienced a significant decrease in mortality due to sepsis compared to our baseline in 2008.”

Two of the major weapons in Washington Hospital’s fight against sepsis are education and collaboration. It devotes substantial resources to teaching physicians, nurses and other caregivers about evidence-based practices that have been proven to successfully identify and treat sepsis.

The Hospital’s strong emphasis on sepsis is also consistent with its role as a Magnet hospital. The Magnet designation, a high honor earned by only a small percentage of U.S. hospitals, means the hospital focuses on exemplary professional nursing practices and employs excellent nurses as part of the health care team.

“Our sepsis team works continuously to give caregivers the best tools to identify and fight sepsis among our patients,” Choy added.

Another part of Washington Hospital’s strategy is to collaborate with other hospitals and expert groups on the West Coast, across the U.S. and around the world to learn more about the best ways to protect patients from sepsis. It tracks and analyzes the most effective ways to diagnose and treat sepsis and applies what is learned to increase the effectiveness of its procedures. The Hospital’s aggressive stance against sepsis has made it a leader in the battle against this serious condition.

“The value of participating in these well-respected efforts to fight sepsis goes far beyond notoriety for our community Hospital,” explained Choy. “We benefit because it enables us to benchmark our outcomes and network with other hospitals. All of this helps us save more lives.”

Washington Hospital is an active member of these regional, national and international efforts to save more lives from sepsis:

Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC)—Founded in 2002 to set out clear diagnostic and treatment guidelines for patient with sepsis, this effort has studied and developed recommendations based on tens of thousands of patient records from hospitals around the world. Mortality from sepsis has decreased more than 25 percent in hospitals utilizing the campaign’s guidelines. In 2014, Washington Hospital was selected to participate in the SSC’s regional quality improvement sepsis collaborative in the San Francisco Bay Area.

IMPRESS (International Multicentre PREvalence Study on Sepsis)—an international study of sepsis and septic shock involving 1,400 hospitals. IMPRESS analyzes the

incidence and clinical patterns of septic syndromes in ICUs and emergency departments around the world. Its goal is to improve knowledge and understanding of


Learn more.

To learn more about Washington Hospital’s initiatives to improve quality of care, go to