Cars pull to the side and everyone takes note of the flashing lights and blaring siren of the local ambulance. Well before the lights and sirens, community volunteers in rural areas heard the rally call to become first responders for friends and neighbors in need of Emergency Medical Services (EMS). These volunteers take on great responsibility, including recognizing signs and symptoms of life-threatening health conditions such as sepsis.

Sepsis is a complication of an infection and can quickly progress to tissue damage, organ failure and death.  While sepsis is easy to treat, it can be difficult to identify. The Sepsis Alliance reported as many as 87 percent of sepsis cases begin in the community.  Mortality from sepsis increases by as much as eight percent for every hour that treatment is delayed and as many as 80 percent of sepsis deaths could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Katy Burket HeadshotKaty Burket, RN, program manager for Great Plains Quality Innovation Network (QIN). “Those who have taken care of a patient diagnosed with sepsis see how rapidly it takes over and are often left wondering what they could have done sooner to prevent it.”

The Great Plains QIN is providing education to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms for sepsis such as the recent webinar on The Pivotal Role of Dispatch in Sepsis Emergencies and ongoing availability of EMS Sepsis Training Modules.

Those interested may also attend the Pre-Hospital Identification and the Management of Sepsis event featuring Dr. Steven Q. Simpson at the Northeast Community College in Norfolk, NE, on Monday, April 8.  As a national expert on sepsis, Dr. Simpson will facilitate learning and discussion on the critical role of EMS in the early recognition and management of septic patients through the use of case studies.

In addition to educational offerings, Great Plain QIN developed posters and magnets as visual cues to promote the use of a “Sepsis Alert” by EMS personnel.   When a patient is exhibiting signs of sepsis, first responders relay the information to the emergency department and initiate a faster response for recommended testing and treatment.

“With sepsis, time is tissue and you have to act fast,” Burket explained. “Sepsis is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. We want to make the signs and symptoms of sepsis as familiar as the signs and symptoms for heart attack or stroke.”

Considering its rank as the leading cause of death and readmissions in United States hospitals, Burket is focused on increasing general awareness of sepsis through first responders to quickly identify and initiate treatment to save lives.  Great Plains QIN staff in South Dakota is providing education on identifying sepsis and support for implementing the Sepsis Alert protocol for EMS District III, which encompasses 27 squads in their respective communities.

“We hear so many personal stories from the local EMS squads about the impact of sepsis,” reflected Burket. “Some stories had positive outcomes, but many did not. Our hope is to share more positive stories of lives saved.”

Additional information and resources on the sepsis special innovation project can be found on the Great Plains QIN website along with the personal story of sepsis, A Family Changed by Sepsis: The Story of David Lee Moeding, by Megan Moeding.

Megan shared, “The worst thing about losing someone you love is the ‘what ifs’. When David died there were many questions, all very good ones. One of them was, of course, why? No one could or can answer that question even today. The other one was what if he would have come in sooner.”