New tool at SNMH alerts doctors to potential sepsis cases
Special to The Union
Local physicians have a new tool that will alert them if one of their patients may be in danger of sepsis, a severe and progressive infection that can be deadly.
Made possible by the new electronic medical record system at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH), the new tool is officially known as the Cerner Sepsis Biosurveillance Program.
“This is basically a tool that will automatically sift through patients’ vital signs and lab values to determine who might be in danger of sepsis,” explained Dr. Danner Hodgson, medical director for the implementation of the system at SNMH. Hodgson is also vice chief of medicine and assistant director of the Emergency Department.
If sepsis indicators are found, the system alerts the patient’s physician or nurse to assess the patient and begin early therapy, using fluids and antibiotics to knock down the infection.
Medical staff members are constantly on the look-out for sepsis, a bacterial infection in the bloodstream or body tissues. It causes an inflammatory response that can result in fever, confusion, dehydration, abnormal lab tests, or low blood pressure, Hodgson said. Sepsis can damage tissue and organs throughout the body, regardless of where the infection originated.
“If you have an infection and are getting worse instead of better, and have some of these symptoms, call or see a doctor ASAP,” Hodgson cautioned.
Jennifer Grove, BSN, RN, is the hospital’s nursing quality analyst and Sepsis Program Lead. She noted that all of us are exposed every day to infections that come in the form of bacteria, virus, fungi, or parasites. Exposures can happen through cuts or other injuries, by consuming contaminated food or drink, or even just by breathing. The body’s own cells and organs can be damaged if our natural immune systems respond too aggressively.
When damaged organs stop working properly, the body is in severe sepsis and that can lead to septic shock, Grove explained.
“Sepsis is a medical emergency,” Grove said.
Like other hospitals, SNMH has been monitoring sepsis for many years, and early recognition and treatment by medical staff has helped keep the hospital’s sepsis mortality rate low, Hodgson said.
“We review sepsis cases on a regular basis and work with other medical leadership teams within Dignity Health to ensure that we are always ahead of the curve in this area,” Hodgson said. “We work hard to stay apprised of this field to ensure that our community receives state-of-the-art sepsis care in our Emergency Department and throughout the hospital.”
The new sepsis surveillance system was made possible after the hospital adopted its new electronic health record, Cerner, last May. Hodgson explained that the new system helps capture information like the sepsis indicators to help physicians react in real time. It also links SNMH with other Dignity Health facilities, and allows doctors to access patients’ charts for hospital visits and visits to other health care systems within the region.
For example, a local clinic physician can use the system to be alerted if their patient goes to the Emergency Department or if lab results are in, he said.
“Though sometimes it can seem that technology distances patients from health care, technology actually connects patients to life-saving care, right when they need it most,” shared Hodgson. “As physicians, we look forward to more patient care centered advances like the sepsis surveillance tool.”
Sept. 13 has been declared World Sepsis Day, as part of an effort to increase knowledge and awareness about this condition.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.
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