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Understanding the Cost of Sepsis

by George Farmer on October 2, 2017 at 5:38 PM


Sepsis is still largely unknown in the US, with only 55 percent of US citizens having ever heard of the condition. Although it’s not yet a household name, sepsis is the leading cause of death in US hospitals, and is proving to be the costliest fiscally.

Sepsis may be a mystery to many in part because of its evolving definition and nuanced diagnosis, sharing symptoms with many more common conditions. However, at its core, sepsis is a dysfunctional immune response to an infection that, if not detected and treated early, leads to systemic organ failure—or septic shock.

Although it’s still widely unknown, sepsis is responsible for 1.6 million deaths a year. It’s the leading cause of death in the US and continues to grow; sepsis-related hospitalizations have increased 180 percent since 2012. Of those with severe sepsis, 40 percent do not survive.

The severity with which septic shock hits, then, creates devastating costs not only clinically, but also financially.

The Clinical Cost of Sepsis

Sepsis is particularly challenging for physicians because its symptoms are identical to many other much more common conditions. In fact, 86 percent of physicians state sepsis symptoms are misattributed to other conditions. Similarly, 45 percent of physicians believe they see opportunities to more accurately identify and communicate suspicions of sepsis. Early identification and communication of suspected sepsis is important: for every hour sepsis goes undiagnosed, its mortality rate increases by 7.6 percent.

To illustrate this issue, although 85 percent of all sepsis cases begin in the hospital ED, it is almost never the chief complaint. This indicates that, too frequently, sepsis goes undiagnosed until a patient has reached the ICU and their condition has already greatly deteriorated.

Further, 62 percent of patients diagnosed with sepsis every year are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. The high rate of readmission illustrates the importance of identifying and treating sepsis early in the care continuum to avoid the onset of septic shock, costly readmissions and penalties to hospital quality ratings.

The Financial Cost of Sepsis

If you displayed the cost of sepsis on a chart, there would be a clear exponential relationship between the time to identify sepsis and the cost of treatment, with the high end reaching as high as 5.7 million for a single case. The staggering costs are due to the extreme difficulty of identifying sepsis before organ failure occurs and the patient’s condition has deteriorated to a critical state in the ICU. The late stage at which sepsis is typically identified is why the average cost of treating a patient with sepsis is six times greater than for any other patient without sepsis in the ICU–which is also why sepsis accounts for 40 percent of all ICU costs in the US.

Opportunity to Improve

Sepsis presents a difficult challenge for hospital administrators who are faced with exponential costs and unacceptably high mortality rates attributable to the condition.

Fortunately, recent studies point to a potential opportunity for administrators to dramatically reduce the impact of sepsis in their organizations. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year demonstrates a clear correlation between earlier treatment and decreased mortality rate. In fact, according to the Sepsis Alliance, 80 percent of sepsis deaths and the majority of costs could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment.

The take away from these studies is that decreasing the time it takes to treat sepsis is the key to realizing the clinical and financial opportunities available to hospital leaders. Treating sepsis earlier in the continuum of care—meaning it is identified earlier–saves lives and reduces the cost of care.

If you would like to find more information on the cost of sepsis, reference our recent infographic. Additionally, those that would like to learn more about accelerating the identification of sepsis can download this whitepaper by Dr. Todd Gary on novel new methods for sepsis identification.

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This post was written by George Farmer

George Farmer is a public relations specialist at Intermedix. Prior to joining Intermedix, George served as a marketing and communications coordinator for the Michigan Health Information Network where he supported the use of technology to advance care coordination, improve patient outcomes and reduce costs across the continuum of care. George is a proud graduate of Michigan State University where he graduated with a Bachelor's in Advertising and a Specialization in Public Relations.

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