Medical City President Erol Akdamar on How to Make Flu Season Less Deadly

If you feel like you have been hearing more about sepsis recently, you are right. Blame the flu.

Sepsis is an overwhelming response to infection that can lead to life-threatening organ failure. It’s a serious healthcare industry concern because each year, sepsis affects more than 26 million people worldwide including 270,000 American deaths, making it more deadly than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined. Sepsis is often linked to bacterial infections, but the past two flu seasons it has made headlines as a life-threatening complication from the influenza virus.

I follow the trends of sepsis on a daily basis because it is the number one cause of hospital readmissions nationwide and is expensive in terms of both dollars and lives. Early and aggressive treatment boosts the chances of survival. The challenge has been that sepsis is hard to recognize in its early stages because the symptoms are similar to other conditions. A patient can go from near normal to near death in a matter of minutes. However, big data — information gathered from thousands of patient records — and predictive analytics are giving clinicians the timely insights required to identify sepsis faster.

Our hospitals recently began using computer algorithms based on patient vital signs, labs, nursing reports and other data. Called S-P-O-T (Sepsis Prediction and Optimization of Therapy), the technology continuously monitors and can help identify sepsis cases approximately 18 hours earlier than the best clinicians. When a pattern consistent with sepsis risk is detected by the computer algorithm, the program alerts trained technicians, who then instantly notify the patient’s nurse. SPOT monitors every patient in our hospitals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

I know that I, along with other healthcare leaders, are supportive of industry initiatives and sharing of knowledge that can save lives. As influenza continues to decline across North Texas, I look forward to reporting back on the patients saved by SPOT and, one day, a flu season that is not deadly.

Erol Akdamar is the president of Medical City Healthcare, HCA Healthcare’s North Texas Division.