SEPtember to Remember

September 2, 2014 by By InTouch Health

The Sepsis Alliance has designated SEPtember as its Sepsis Awareness Month, and Sept.13th as World Sepsis Day. We’ve blogged before about telemedicine’s role in early detection of sepsis, but it’s a topic worth revisiting.

Sepsis is caused by complications from an infection, and 100 years ago it wasn’t much of a problem worldwide. But today, many seniors in their 70s and 80s are having major surgeries that weaken their already fragile immune systems making them vulnerable to infections. That’s why most cases of sepsis occur during hospitalization. Each year, more than a quarter of a million people die from sepsis – and it costs the U.S. healthcare system $20 billion annually.

Advances in pharmacology are making the problem worse by potentially making millions of people more prone to sepsis. You’ve probably seen pro golfer Phil Mickelsen’s TV ads for Enbrel, a rheumatoid arthritis drug that alleviates inflammation but also weakens the immune system. There are similar drugs that combat other types of arthritis, psoriasis and a host of other ailments – most of them marketed to seniors in well-funded TV campaigns.

People who take these medications – particularly those who already have diabetes, HIV or chronic liver or kidney problems – are more susceptible to sepsis. As we reported several months ago, a significant number of sepsis deaths occur in non-ICU settings. That’s where telemedicine can help. By monitoring more patients at home, and matching their data with the hundreds of sepsis “red flags” we know about, many sepsis cases can be prevented.

The Missouri-based Mercy Health system already has a TeleSepsis program where community caregivers consult with sepsis specialists at the hub hospital. The program has dramatically lowered ICU costs and, more importantly, produced a nearly 50% reduction in sepsis deaths.

This September, let’s pause to remember that teamwork and telemedicine are helping to reduce the staggering costs and number of deaths from sepsis.