Lakeland Regional Health



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Vice President of Community Health and Medical Director, LRHS Physicians Group
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Monday, September 30 2013

An Old Killer, Still Common Today, but Largely Unrecognized


Every week, over 700 Americans die from an overwhelming infection that many have never heard of.

It is called Sepsis.

An older name for this is “blood poisoning” and it’s caused when tiny microscopic germs, usually bacteria, beat a body’s defenses and find their way into areas where infections are not normally found.

These germs don’t just multiple quickly. They also produce deadly toxins that damage internal organs, make blood vessels leak and stop the normal ability to make blood clots. Blood pressure can also drop to dangerously low levels and bleeding can occur in many areas of the body. The kidneys can fail and the brain can be irreversibly damaged by this infection.

Although sepsis can strike someone who is otherwise healthy, this is rare. Those that have another illness such as uncontrolled diabetes, have undergone a recent surgery, have a severe flu, or have cancer are more commonly affected.

Sepsis can strike like lightning. In some cases, even the best treatments may not be enough to save those with the most severe cases.

This disorder can show itself in many ways. It can cause a fever or low body temperature. The white blood cell count (a common blood test) can be elevated or low. Most patients with sepsis also suffer from low blood pressure, fast beating heart (> 90 beats per minute), fast breathing, confusion, making less urine, skin mottling or discoloration, trouble clotting blood, high blood sugar, buildup of acid in the blood and liver dysfunction.

Once sepsis sets in, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and others must move quickly to determine the cause and start antibiotics and IV fluids, while supporting the blood pressure and helping any organs that may be compromised and that are functioning improperly due to the infection.

Lakeland Regional Medical Center is rapidly taking advantage of advancing technology in the prevention and treatment of sepsis. By electronically gathering facts about hospitalized patients, while automatically scanning for health patterns that might lead to developing early sepsis, we are able to partner technology with our highly skilled hands-on clinical care to help protect our patients.

Today, a patient’s temperature, heart beat rate, breathing rate and lab tests are entered into the patient’s electronic medical record. Within seconds, computer programs designed by LRMC physicians will confirm if a patient’s condition is changing and will alert the medical staff immediately.

This complements the bedside care by adding another layer of safety. The sepsis surveillance system will automatically order tests to help determine the cause and thus save precious time.

In the three months after launching this new program at LRMC, the system alerted staff to 1,100 patients with early signs of potential sepsis. Medical staff immediately assessed the patients and ensured that additional needed tests were ordered and provided additional treatment.

Lead design physician and Chief Quality Officer Dr. Scott Swygert says, “This system was a team effort that advances our already excellent care and takes advantage of new time saving technology to save more lives.”

September is Sepsis Awareness Month and is a time to remind people not to overuse antibiotics since that may cause drug resistant bacteria, but if they’re prescribed needed medications, to always finish their prescriptions. Patients should not take antibiotics left over from a previous illness or from someone else since one antibiotic may not treat a different type of infection.

Out of control infections lead to sepsis, but rapid recognition along with treatment saves lives.

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