When it comes to sepsis, prevention is the best medicine for this deadly condition.

5 things to know about sepsis

When healthcare providers are doing everything they can to help patients get back on their feet or manage chronic illnesses, infections can decimate their efforts in the blink of an eye. 

Unfortunately, at many hospitals across the country, sepsis may be doing just that. And that means big problems for home health agencies, who send and receive patients to and from hospitals and depend on low readmission rates to avoid financial penalties. 

Sepsis is characterized by a breakdown in the body's healthy immune system response to infection. It is one of the top causes of hospital deaths in the U.S., with more than 1.5 million people developing the condition each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in three patients who die in a hospital have sepsis, a sobering statistic. 

sepsis Hospitals are seeing a growing number of sepsis cases. 

In response to this growing threat, state legislatures and regulatory bodies are mandating stricter standards for infection control by healthcare providers. The most famous case of this is New York State, which now requires all healthcare agencies to adopt more detailed, evidence-based screening and treatment protocols. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services followed suit, updating its conditions of participation to make it mandatory that all HHAs operate an infection control program. 

As the discussion around sepsis intensifies, here are five things home health agencies should know about this dangerous condition:

1. Older patients are at increased risk of developing sepsis 
While sepsis can develop in any patient, older individuals, who represent the bulk of home healthcare patients, are most at risk. A study published in the World Journal of Critical Care Medicine attributes the high incidence of sepsis in elderly patients to reduced immune system functions, high rates of co-morbidities and frequent and long hospital stays. Sepsis is the top reason for ICU admissions for elderly patients.   

2. Sepsis advances quickly 
The insidiousness of sepsis lies in its ability to progress rapidly. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine of more than 49,000 patients at 149 hospitals in New York State found that for every hour clinicians don't engage in sepsis control protocols, mortality rates increase by between 3 percent and 4 percent, Stat News reported. 

3. Sepsis is becoming antibiotic resistant 
There is growing concern over antibiotic resistance in the treatment of sepsis, a challenging issue seeing as antibiotics are a key treatment for the condition, as the Sepsis Alliance Explained. One study of 76 patients in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences found that the six antibiotics used most often to to treat infections demonstrated an average resistance higher than 50 percent

4. We're probably noticing sepsis more 
While the number of cases of sepsis has more than tripled in recent years, health experts say that the explanation is more likely that the condition seems more prevalent today because clinicians have gotten better at identifying the signs of sepsis, according to Bloomberg. 

Clinicians are "actually recognizing a much more common condition than we realized in the past was actually there," said Dr. Greg Martin, a professor of medicine at Emory University, in an interview with the source. 

5. Prevention is the best medicine 
The facts above point to an important conclusion: Prevention is the most effective way of combating sepsis. More comprehensive infection control protocols can help clinicians mitigate risk factors and identify patients most likely to develop the condition. Take the example of New York State, which saw sepsis mortality rates decrease nearly 16 percent as a result of the new and improved infection control processes. 

An EMR with enhanced infection control protocols is an important ally in the fight against sepsis. HHAs should choose a platform that enables clinicians and staff to have greater visibility into infection stages and provide more detailed documentation. Thornberry's NDoc® solution now features enhanced infection control protocols that include expanded data-collection fields and agency-wide reports – learn more about NDoc®, sepsis and Medicare infection control compliance here