A Kansas University initiative is trying to get professionals in rural hospitals to recognize the signs of severe sepsis infections more quickly in an effort to save lives.
Sepsis is a term used to describe a widespread infection that attacks the bloodstream, said Steven Simpson, professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care at KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.
Severe sepsis involves bodywide cases of inflammation and causes organs to malfunction.
It’s a problem in hospitals across the country and in Kansas. Nationally, the mortality rates from sepsis are similar to the number of people who die from heart attacks, Simpson said.
KU educators say more training will lead to lower mortality rates, shorter stays in intensive care and lower costs for providing care.
About eight people per day in Kansas die from a septic infection, said Elizabeth Wenske Mullinax, project manager for continuing medical education at KU.
She is helping to organize a project that takes lessons learned at KU Hospital and transfers them to critical access hospitals, which are smaller, rural hospitals with fewer than 25 beds.
“We’re trying to get those critical access hospitals to recognize severe sepsis and recognize it early,” she said.
And early recognition is often the key, Simpson said.
Minutes can be the difference when it comes to two key treatment efforts — the administration of fluids and the introduction of antibiotics.
Every five minutes without an antibiotic, the likelihood a patient with severe sepsis will die goes up by 1 percent, Simpson said.
When presented with a case, Simpson said he’ll go to the pharmacy and explain the urgency in filling out the prescription so that it gets to the patient as quickly as possible.
A patient’s survival can depend on doctors and other health care professionals essentially remembering to flip a few switches.
“You’d be astonished at how often those switches aren’t flipped,” Simpson said.
Sepsis is a word doctors probably hear from their first year of medical school onward, but many aren’t well-trained in exactly how to deal with it, he said.
The sepsis prevention courses are operated within KU’s Continuing Education program.
By enrolling in the programs, Kansas health care professionals can earn continuing medical education credits needed to maintain licenses.