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Sepsis Screening Tool: Preventing Death From Undiagnosed Infection

February 10, 2015

Sepsis is a major cause of hospital deaths.  In 2008, 2% of hospital patients in the United States were diagnosed with sepsis but the condition caused over 17% of hospital deaths.  There are guidelines for sepsis diagnosis, and the problem is converting knowledge to prompt medical atttention.  Early signs of sepsis are often ignored and effective medical treatment requires coordination of healthcare professionals in a short period of time.  Hospitals with defined sepsis screening tools consistently save patients’ lives and achieve better sepsis outcomes.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious medical condition of whole-body inflammation from an infection.  The immune system responds to infection.  When immune chemicals are released into the blood stream to combat infection, the chemicals trigger widespread inflammation, leading to blood clots and leaky vessels.  Widespread inflammation impairs blood flow and damages vital organs by depriving nutrients and oxygen.  In a severe case, organs fail, blood pressure drops, and the patient can die.

Sepsis is caused by infection in the lungs, urinary tract, abdomen, or other parts of the body.

Sepsis affects over a million Americans every year, killing 30 to 50 percent of them.  More people die from sepsis than the total number of deaths from prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined.

How is sepsis diagnosed and treated?

Symptoms of sepsis are often misdiagnosed or diagnosis delayed in hospitals.  They are common infection symptoms: fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion and disorientation.  Fever and difficulty breathing can mimic other symptoms.  To detect sepsis, healthcare providers can perform a blood test to see if a hospital patient has an abnormal number of white blood cells, or an elevated lactate level.  An x-ray or CT scan can identify the site of infection.  If sepsis is detected or identified late, the condition becomes critical or fatal.

Hospital Screening tools and Prevention

Many healthcare systems have screening tools and instruments to detect sepsis before irreparable injury.  The Surviving Sepsis Campaign developed this evaluation tool for recognizing and stopping sepsis, click here to view.

The screening process must be communicated to everyone on the healthcare team.  A hospital may use the screening tool to detect sepsis, but fail to promptly follow-up, treat, and stop the condition.  Treatment must start immediately!

Sepsis and medical negligence

Perhaps you or a loved one was injured because a physician or medical facility failed to promptly and properly treat you or a loved one with sepsis. Seek legal recourse immediately, any delay in legal action can mean losing your right to reimbursement of harms and losses. In Michigan, for instance, a medical malpractice lawsuit generally must be brought by the patient or surviving family no later than 2 years after the medical error or it is barred forever.

NBC News, for instance, recently covered a lawsuit of sepsis involving a 20-year-old woman.  She went a hospital emergency department with symptoms of infection.  The hospital tested the woman but sent her back home before receiving the results.  The results showed a serious urinary tract infection, but the woman had already been sent away with no medication and no instructions.

The next day, she returned to the emergency department with fever and racing heart rate.  The hospital admitted her but failed to immediately treat with antibiotics, fluid resuscitation, blood pressure therapy, or close observation.  As a result, she deteriorated, and her ill-body channeled blood flow to vital organs instead of her limbs.  Because of the hospital delay in diagnosis and medical treatment, the young woman lost her legs and arms.

At Buchanan Firm, our combined legal-medical team has decades of experience successfully handling medical malpractice cases, including cases involving sepsis. We have medical and legal professionals on staff to talk with you and promptly review your claim. Our team quickly and efficiently assess the medical facts and takes immediate action to protect your legal rights.