Sepsis: a tragically preventable cause of hospital deaths

No, it’s not urban legend: It really is possible to die from a mosquito bite or paper cut. Thankfully, this is rare in healthy people. But in compromised populations, the risk of fatal sepsis (“blood poisoning”) is very real — and tragically, very preventable. 210,000 Americans are dying of it every year, with 70,000 of these deaths occurring in hospitals.

When a patient dies of sepsis, the family too often writes it off as an unavoidable complication, and the hospital is not held accountable. Yet for up to 30 percent of patients, it is very preventable in the early stages, with a simple blood screen. Often doctors often wait until patients are showing obvious diagnostic criteria, like high fever and low blood pressure before commencing treatment. However sepsis spreads very quickly to all bodily organs. By the time diagnostics and treatments begin, it’s often too late.

Why are doctors so slow to diagnose and treat sepsis? Ironically, the Hippocratic Oath itself: “Do no harm.” The treatment for sepsis is very invasive and can potentially damage the heart and lungs. And doctors are more likely to be blamed for a failed aggressive treatment than for failing to act at all. While sepsis tests are not 100 percent accurate, they are still a valuable early detection tool.

Yet when Kaiser Permanente adopted a sepsis protocol in 2008, their sepsis fatality rate dropped over 40 percent. These results reflect those of many other hospitals and healthcare centers adopting similar protocols. After a young boy from Queens died this January because his sepsis was not detected on time, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that his plans to lead the nation in updating attitudes about sepsis detection and treatment.

Florida may still be among the many states still clinging to antiquated “watch and wait” sepsis protocols. However, this does not excuse hospitals from accountability for failure to diagnose and treat a deadly condition. If you suffered serious complications or lost a loved one due to sepsis, medical malpractice should not be ruled out. A lawyer can help determine if negligence was a factor in your case. An attorney will not only fight for the compensation you deserve, but can help set a precedent for more responsible healthcare in Florida.

SourceForbes, “Why 70,000 Americans Die Needlessly In Hospitals Each Year” Robert Pearl (with significant contribution from Dr. Donald Berwick), Aug. 08, 2013