Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection. Each year in the U.S., more than 1.5 million people develop sepsis, and at least 250,000 Americans die as a result.

It is also very difficult to diagnose and treat. 

"Sepsis is a really frustrating disease," Dr. David Carlbom told NPR, "There's no blood test for sepsis ... nothing you can look at under the microscope and say 'this is sepsis.' "

Process improvements

At Harborview Medical Center, Carlbom and Dr. Anders Chen (General Internal Medicine), along with Rosemary Grant (sepsis care coordinator and nurse) are trying a new screening system. An automated system looks for patterns in a patient's symptoms and if certain patterns emerge, a red dot on the medical record triggers the nurse to check for early signs of sepsis.

If the nurse says yes, the doctor is paged and should respond within a half hour. Their goal is to get antibiotics to the patient within three hours. 

Dr. David Carlbom
Dr. David Carlbom

The screening system was improved as part of the Medicine Resident Health Systems Rapid Improvement Process.

Experimental therapy

Carlbom and other researchers are also experimenting with a new form of treatment for patients with sepsis - a cocktail of intravenous vitamin C, thiamine, steroids, antibiotics and limited use of fluids.

He has treated over 25 patients so far, with mixed results.

Research is currently underway to gather more evidence to study this treatment. 

Read more on the NPR website:

Synergy Between Nurses And Automation Could Be Key To Finding Sepsis Early

Did An IV Cocktail Of Vitamins And Drugs Save This Lumberjack From Sepsis?