Report: Lack of eHealth standards, privacy concerns costing lives

Early detection through trending can save thousands of lives

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For example, since implementing a sepsis alert system more than two years ago in conjunction with its EMR database, about 4,000 lives have potentially been saved through the efforts at Methodist North Hospital (MNH) in Memphis. The hospital's EMR system alerts doctors and nurses to patients suffering from sepsis an often deadly systemic infection that can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Methodist Healthcare system, includes three adult-care facilities that also use the sepsis alert system.

Each year, 750,000 people in the U.S. develop severe sepsis, and of those, 200,000 die of this condition, according to the Surviving Sepsis Campaign.

MNH's sepsis alert system catches the warning indicators before the syndrome can endanger patients. In the hospital's emergency department, an icon shows up on the patient monitor and for patient's in other wards, doctors and nurses receive pager alerts. According to Paula Jacobs, director of quality and performance improvement at MNH, the early detection technology has reduced sepsis deaths by 17% year over year or by about six patients every month at the 280-bed facility.

Jacobs said one unexpected benefit of the early sepsis alert system was a monetary savings to the hospital of more than $1 million a year through shorter hospitalizations.

While sepsis is common, it receives little press and is most often highlighted in news stories about famous people dying from cases that weren't detected early enough. Most recently, Miss World contestant and model Mariana Bridi da Costa first had her hands and feet amputated and then died from a severe sepsis infection. Other famous people, such as Muppets creator Jim Hansen and actor Christopher Reeves, also died from sepsis.

Symptoms of 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.

"The warning indicators for sepsis can easily be confused with other ailments," said Dr. Karen Hopper, 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."

Methodist North Hospital's Sepsis alert icon shows up as a bug on its emergency department's monitoring system
Methodist North Hospital's Sepsis alert icon.
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