Study finds high readmission rates among sepsis survivors

Hospital lobby
Patients who survive sepsis are likely to be readmitted, according to a new study. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

A brush with sepsis may increase a patient's odds of being readmitted to the hospital, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania tracked sepsis patients who were treated at the university's health system between 2010 and 2015 and found that sepsis admissions increased from 3.9% to 9.4% in that window, while mortality rates decreased from 24.1% to 14.8%. 

However, the researchers discovered a sharp uptick in the number of discharges at risk for readmission related to sepsis, which rose from 2.7% to 7.8%. Rates for 30-day readmissions did decrease modestly during the study window, from 26.4% to 23.1%, but that decrease was offset by a spike in treat-and-release visits to the emergency room, which jumped from 2.8% to a 2014 peak of 5.4%. 

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The researchers said future studies should expand to include a larger patient population and more hospitals, but they said the results highlight a need for hospitals to develop ways to mitigate the risks for sepsis survivors. 

"Our findings support the growing recommendations that sepsis warrants national attention as a targeted condition for acute care and post-acute care metrics," they said. "To date, there has been little evaluation of hospital discharge practices after sepsis." 

RELATED: 44 children's hospitals unite to combat sepsis 

A successful post-discharge plan for sepsis survivors would require clear communication between acute and post-acute providers, interventions for specific symptoms patients can face after discharge and monitoring systems to prevent a recurrence of the infection, according to the study. Telehealth could be a beneficial tool, they suggested. 

Prior studies have also shown a need for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to track sepsis cases as part of its Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, which aims to curb 30-day readmission rates.  

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found sepsis is linked to higher readmission rates and costs than heart attacks, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia, four conditions that CMS does measure in HRRP. 

A 2014 study also suggested that sepsis contributes to as many as half of patient deaths in the hospital. 

Hospitals that act quickly to treat sepsis are more likely to save a patient's life. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that for each hour clinicians fail to complete a well-known anti-sepsis protocol, hospital mortality rates jump by as much as 4%. The findings, according to that study, are especially crucial for ER teams who suspect a patient has sepsis.