Hospital Impact: With innovation, the end of sepsis is possible

The Innovation Institute, a national healthcare technology incubator, works with physicians and clinicians to advance innovation by solving problems on the front line. We are hopeful that the solutions focused on sepsis will make it into the mainstream of patient care one day soon to help eradicate this leading cause of preventable death in developed and developing countries around the world.

More than 26 million people worldwide each year are affected by sepsis, the body’s toxic response to infection. It is the largest killer of children and newborn infants in the world. In the U.S., 258,000 people die from sepsis every year—one every 2 minutes; more than prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined, according to the Sepsis Alliance. It is the No. 1 cost of hospitalization in the U.S., costing more than $24 billion each year.

In 2016, the first World Sepsis Day called for all nations to address the growing burden of sepsis, and brought the problem to the limelight. The Global Sepsis Alliance, a worldwide collaboration of prominent clinicians and healthcare associations, is appealing to every country to establish a national action plan to reduce sepsis by at least 20% by the year 2020. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UK Department of Health have launched campaigns to educate people about the fact that sepsis is a medical emergency where time is of the essence. Therefore, rapid recognition and treatment is as critical as in heart attack or stroke. Learning how to identify and screen every potentially infected patient for sepsis can save lives. Also, educating the public about what sepsis is and its symptoms, similar to how stroke signs have been simplified as Think “FASST” (Face, Arm, Speech, Sight, Time), could help. For sepsis, the symptoms are SEPSIS (Shivering, Extreme pain, Pale, Sleepy, I feel like I might die, and Short of breath).

Prevention both nationally and globally is possible using existing protocols, including clean obstetric care, improvements in sanitation, nutrition, delivery of clean water and vaccination programs for at-risk patient populations.

Sepsis reverses the health and safety measures we promote across our health systems. It can interfere with the treatment of anyone exposed to bacteria in a hospital setting. Many of us have seen patients in hospitals survive major surgery and deadly diseases, only to end up fighting for their lives from a sepsis infection.

RELATED: Sepsis drives more readmissions than medical conditions tracked by CMS

Despite innovation and advances in modern medicine, including vaccines, antibiotics and intensive care, sepsis continues to stand out as a global life-threatening medical condition. I believe that through collaboration with physicians, clinicians and staff across the hospital systems we work with, The Innovation Institute will help produce solutions that will help reduce the incidence and possibly even eradicate sepsis and sepsis deaths.

Our Innovation Lab team is already working with several healthcare professionals to develop solutions that will fight sepsis. Identifying those who are at risk, including children and the elderly, or those with a compromised immune system could be helpful in this battle. We must embrace innovation that not only helps control infection, but that also reduces the presence of all health conditions that make young and old alike susceptible to sepsis.

Joe Randolph is president and CEO of The Innovation Institute, a for-profit LLC and an incubator focused on healthcare transformation and new product development and commercialization. The Innovation Institute currently works with hospitals and health systems across the country.