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Memphis Hospital Develops Electronic Sepsis Alert

More than 4,000 lives have potentially been saved at Methodist North Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., thanks to the hospital’s EMR software. The hospital developed an electronic sepsis alert within its EMR that allows it to catch the warning indicators of sepsis before the syndrome can endanger patients. Now Methodist North is sharing this best practice with medical facilities from coast to coast and Canada. Some hospitals that are using the sepsis alert include Toronto East General Hospital in Canada, the Henry Ford Medical Center in Detroit, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health Center, and Catholic Healthcare West in California.

Sepsis is the body’s response to infection. It can be caused from a simple infection such as strep throat, the flu, or a urinary tract infection. Interestingly, sepsis kills more people every year than heart attacks and strokes, yet it is often confused with other illnesses. Each year, 750,000 people in the United States develop severe sepsis, and of those, 200,000 die of this condition.

Leadership at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare wanted to stop these deaths that can often be prevented if caught in time. A team of doctors, nurses, and IT staff worked together to create an electronic alert within its Cerner Millennium EMR system that displays an alert box that immediately notifies a patient’s care team when the patient begins to exhibit signs of sepsis. This warning gives clinicians time to initiate a sepsis treatment protocol to prevent the syndrome from getting worse.

“The sepsis alert confirms that these types of electronic tools are critical to improving the quality of patient care,” explains Bill Tettlebach, MD, who led the rules development team that oversees rules and alerts in the system. “The rules enable physicians to intervene more quickly in diagnosing time sensitive illnesses such as sepsis.”

Symptoms for sepsis include fever or low body temperature, fast heart rate, rapid breathing, confusion or decreased alertness, low blood pressure, or the subtle new onset of organ dysfunction, all of which can easily be mistaken for other conditions. “The warning indicators for sepsis can easily be confused with other ailments,” says Karen Hopper, MD, chief medical officer at Methodist North Hospital. “There is a crucial six-hour window to recognize and stop the sepsis downward spiral that can cause a patient to die.”

The sepsis alert program that was piloted at Methodist North and has been implemented in Methodist Le Bonheur’s six other hospitals. Since the alert has been in place at Methodist North, it has fired more than 4,000 times, potentially saving the lives of each of those patients.
Sources: Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Cerner