Managing Diagnostic Uncertainty in Pediatric Sepsis Quality Improvement with a Two-Tiered Approach

Pediatr Qual Saf. 2020 Jan 11;5(1):e244. doi: 10.1097/pq9.0000000000000244. eCollection Jan-Feb 2020.


Severe sepsis requires timely, resource-intensive resuscitation, a challenge when a sepsis diagnosis is not confirmed. The overall goals were to create a pediatric sepsis program that provided high-quality critical care in severe sepsis (Sepsis Stat), and, in possible sepsis, flexible evaluation and treatment that promoted stewardship (Sepsis Yellow). The primary aims were to decrease time to antibiotics and the intensive care unit requirement.

Methods: A 2-tiered clinical pathway was implemented at 6 pediatric emergency departments and urgent care centers, incorporating order sets, education, paging. The Sepsis Stat pathway included 2 nurses, hand delivery of antibiotics, resuscitation room use. The Sepsis Yellow pathway included prioritized orders, standardized procedures, close monitoring, and evaluation of whether antibiotics were warranted.

Results: From April 2012 to December 2017, we treated 3,640 patients with suspected and confirmed sepsis. Among the 932 severe sepsis patients, the 30-day, in-hospital mortality was 0.9%. Arrival to recognition time improved from 50 to 4 minutes. Recognition to antibiotic time demonstrated an in-control process in our goal range with a median of 43 minutes for Sepsis Stat patients, 59 minutes for Sepsis Yellow patients. The proportion of severe sepsis patients requiring intensive care unit care declined from 45% to 34%. On the Sepsis Yellow pathway, 23% were de-escalated with discharge to home without antibiotics.

Conclusions: This novel 2-tiered approach to pediatric sepsis quality improvement in varied emergency care settings improved process and outcome measures in severe sepsis while promoting stewardship and de-escalation where appropriate. Matching resources to the degree of illness was important in supporting quality care in potentially septic children.