Rory Staunton. Photo courtesy of End Sepsis and the Staunton family
When 12-year-old Rory Staunton cut his arm during gym class in 2012, what should have been a simple wound became a nightmare that resulted in Rory’s death.
It started when the gym teacher covered the cut with two Band-Aids without cleaning it or sending Rory to the school nurse. It continued with each doctor Rory’s parents saw who neglected to identify his symptoms of sepsis, instead diagnosing him with a stomach virus and dehydration.
Photo via pexels.
Higher levels of registered nurse staffing are associated with a lower likelihood of Medicare patients’ dying from sepsis in hospitals, according to a recent study published in JAMA Health Forum. An estimated 1.7 million cases of sepsis occur each year, killing 270,000 annually. Even more concerning is one in three patients who die in the hospital has sepsis, according to the CDC. Not all of those deaths occur because of sepsis, but it’s a contributing factor in nearly all cases.
The vast majority of infections that cause sepsis, however — 87% of them — begin outside the hospital, according to the CDC. The difference between life and death depends on early identification of sepsis and immediate treatment. Registered nurses play a significant role in that process because they have more regular interaction with patients and more opportunities to observe symptoms of sepsis.
Why does this study matter to journalists?: Nurses continue to be an under-appreciated and under-utilized resource for better understanding health care issues. Here are some key takeaways from this study:
- Nurses can play a crucial role in the prevention and treatment of a wide range of conditions.
- Journalists need to include nurses in their source lists when reporting on diseases, hospital-acquired infections, and other conditions that have traditionally involved only quoting physicians.
As senior quality editor for HealthLeaders Media for more than six years, Cheryl Clark wrote more than 1,300 stories about hospitals’ efforts to improve quality and safety and related issues.
Rates of sepsis seemed to be one more dirty little hospital horror to explore, one that the Joint Commission said cost hospitals about $16.7 billion annually. Yet hospitals’ efforts to tackle it seemed hidden behind improvement initiatives attracting more attention, such as reducing hospital-acquired infections, and preventable readmissions, lowering emergency room wait times and raising patient experience scores.
The story she wrote for the June 2014 issue of HealthLeaders’ print magazine, on how U.S. hospitals are improving recognition and treatment of sepsis — which is diagnosed in 750,000 patients a year and kills 40 percent — won the 2015 National Institute of Health Care Management prize in the trade print category. They said the story was “most likely to save a life.”
In a new article for AHCJ, she explains how she did her reporting, despite a lack of data and sources who didn’t want to talk. Read more.