Impact of Reducing Time-to-Antibiotics on Sepsis Mortality, Antibiotic Use, and Adverse Events

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2024 Jan;21(1):94-101. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.202306-505OC.


Rationale: Shorter time-to-antibiotics is lifesaving in sepsis, but programs to hasten antibiotic delivery may increase unnecessary antibiotic use and adverse events. Objectives: We sought to estimate both the benefits and harms of shortening time-to-antibiotics for sepsis. Methods: We conducted a simulation study using a cohort of 1,559,523 hospitalized patients admitted through the emergency department with meeting two or more systemic inflammatory response syndrome criteria (2013-2018). Reasons for hospitalization were classified as septic shock, sepsis, infection, antibiotics stopped early, and never treated (no antibiotics within 48 h). We simulated the impact of a 50% reduction in time-to-antibiotics for sepsis across 12 hospital scenarios defined by sepsis prevalence (low, medium, or high) and magnitude of "spillover" antibiotic prescribing to patients without infection (low, medium, high, or very high). Outcomes included mortality and adverse events potentially attributable to antibiotics (e.g., allergy, organ dysfunction, Clostridiodes difficile infection, and culture with multidrug-resistant organism). Results: A total of 933,458 (59.9%) hospitalized patients received antimicrobial therapy within 48 hours of presentation, including 38,572 (2.5%) with septic shock, 276,082 (17.7%) with sepsis, 370,705 (23.8%) with infection, and 248,099 (15.9%) with antibiotics stopped early. A total of 199,937 (12.8%) hospitalized patients experienced an adverse event; most commonly, acute liver injury (5.6%), new MDRO (3.5%), and Clostridiodes difficile infection (1.7%). Across the scenarios, a 50% reduction in time-to-antibiotics for sepsis was associated with a median of 1 to 180 additional antibiotic-treated patients and zero to seven additional adverse events per death averted from sepsis. Conclusions: The impacts of faster time-to-antibiotics for sepsis vary markedly across simulated hospital types. However, even in the worst-case scenario, new antibiotic-associated adverse events were rare.

Keywords: antibacterial agents; cohort studies; emergency service; hospital.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sepsis* / drug therapy
  • Shock, Septic* / drug therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents