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Educating the Community about a Life-Threatening Condition

MedStar Health Sepsis Collaborative

Pictured above are Jeanne Decosmo, director of Clinical Quality at MedStar Health, and Armando Nahum, a father who lost his son to sepsis. Nahum serves as a patient advisor and spokesman for the Sepsis Collaborative.

The lives of many Americans are impacted each year by a serious health condition that causes more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) combined. Yet, unless it has touched your family, it is likely you’ve never heard of it.

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection—which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. More than 1.5 million Americans develop this life-threatening condition each year, and more than 250,000 die from it. It is sometimes inaccurately referred to as blood poisoning or toxic shock, which is why many people are unfamiliar with the term “sepsis” until they or their loved ones are affected by it.

But now, a MedStar Quality and Safety initiative is in place to help educate the community about sepsis— and potentially save lives.

The MedStar Health Sepsis Collaborative was created in 2017 as an awareness campaign aimed at patients, family members and emergency department staff. “The goal is to ensure the greater community is as aware of the signs of sepsis as they are of heart attack or stroke symptoms,” says Jeanne Decosmo, director of Clinical Quality, MedStar Health.

The first stage of outreach efforts included the development of easy-to-understand, patient-friendly brochures, posters and videos created by sepsis survivors, family members of patients lost to sepsis, and the MedStar Patient and Family Advisory Council for Quality and Safety.

“This collaboration between patients, family members and the medical community has been key to the program’s success,” says Decosmo.

Armando Nahum, a father who lost his son to sepsis, serves as a patient advisor and spokesman for the initiative.

“Before it happened to my son, I knew nothing about sepsis,” says Nahum, whose son developed the condition while in a post-surgery rehabilitation facility. “If only I had been more educated, maybe my son would be alive today.”

In addition to educating the public, the initiative also focuses on improving emergency department triage processes for recognizing and treating patients who arrive exhibiting symptoms of sepsis.

“Early identification and treatment are so crucial,” says Decosmo. “Every minute, every hour that goes by untreated, increases the chances of death.”

The Sepsis Collaborative has seen success not only across all 10 MedStar Health hospitals—it has also become a national model for hospital systems across the country. In recognition of its impact, the program received the Sherman Award for Excellence in Patient Engagement in 2018.

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