Unicoi County Memorial Hospital | News Article

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Life-saving sepsis initiative by Mountain States, Johnston Memorial Hospital team wins national award

Members of the Sepsis Initiative team celebrate at the 2015 Mountain States Quality Awards after the project earned a prestigious President's Award.

 JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. & ABINGDON, Va. – A collaborative project launched by clinical teams at Johnston Memorial Hospital and Mountain States Health Alliance has earned national recognition from the Society of Hospital Medicine. The Sepsis Initiative, spearheaded by Dr. Amit Vashist, system chair of hospitalist services for Mountain States, is estimated to have saved more than 70 lives over the course of a year.

Team leader Dr. Amit VashistThe project team is being honored by the Society of Hospital Medicine with a 2017 Award for Excellence in Teamwork in Quality Improvement. The award honors best practices in hospital medicine in areas including quality improvement, research, teaching and teamwork.

Sepsis is a potentially deadly condition caused by the body’s overwhelming response to an infection, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. Sepsis can occur to anyone, at any time, from any type of infection, and can affect any part of the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, severe sepsis strikes more than a million Americans every year, and it’s been estimated that between 28 and 50 percent of these people die – far more than the number of U.S. deaths from breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined.

Early identification of sepsis is key to saving lives, so the team focused on streamlining diagnosis and rapid treatment. With assistance from Premier, Inc., a national healthcare quality improvement advisory firm, the project took a three-pronged approach, focusing on people, processes and technology.

“Sepsis can be a very challenging condition to treat because it is often difficult to diagnose. The patient’s life may depend on identifying sepsis quickly and starting aggressive treatment early,” said Dr. Vashist. “We started this project with a team of clinicians at Johnston Memorial Hospital who were focused on identifying sepsis cases earlier and standardizing the way we treat those patients.

“First, we defined the processes used to identify sepsis and worked to make those processes more efficient and effective, then we worked to improve communication among clinical teams. We made sepsis education mandatory for our nurse orientation and annual learning requirements.

“To make sure we were being consistent in how we treat sepsis, we built protocol into our electronic medical record system in the form of sepsis screening tools, automatic alerts and sepsis-specific order sets. And because most sepsis patients come into the hospital through the emergency room, we also hardwired sepsis screening into our ER triage processes.”

In order to achieve success, the Sepsis Initiative required close collaboration among a variety of departments and stakeholders, both inside the hospital and out.

“In order to be sure we were looking at every variable that could impact the patient’s outcome, it was important for us to have close working relationships with the ER teams, hospitalists and clinical nursing teams, as well as the Mountain States quality department,” said Dr. Vashist. “It was great to see these groups come together to focus on a specific area for improvement. I believe our success really lies in effective communication and collaboration.”

The Sepsis Initiative is now being used in six other Mountain States hospitals and has sparked a number of other quality-based initiatives at Johnston Memorial and throughout the health system. The Sepsis Initiative was also honored with the President’s Award at the 2015 Mountain States Health Alliance Quality Awards celebration, which is an annual demonstration of the nearly 100 ongoing quality research projects going on throughout Mountain States each year.

“It’s great to see this type of quality improvement being driven by our own physicians and clinical teams,” said Dr. Morris Seligman, chief medical officer for Mountain States. “They’ve saved more than 70 lives in just the first year of this project, and we believe it will continue to elevate our clinical processes going forward. The Sepsis Initiative is a great example of how our physicians and clinical teams at Mountain States are improving care for the patients we serve in our region. We are incredibly proud of Dr. Vashist and his team for their accomplishments.”

The team will receive their award at the Society of Hospital Medicine’s annual meeting on May 3, 2017. Members of the team are Dr. Vashist, Dr. David Simmons, Dr. Hughes S. Melton, Dr. John Ray, Judy Dickenson, Kim Godbey, Mary Alice Roe, Nikki Van Buren, Rolande Baker, Teresa Castle, and Tony Stiltner.

For more information about SHM’s Awards of Excellence, visit www.hospitalmedicine.org/awards.