Some patients diagnosed with sepsis have very brief hospitalizations. Understanding the prevalence and clinical characteristics of these patients may provide insight into how sepsis diagnoses are being applied as well as the breadth of illnesses encompassed by current sepsis definitions.
Retrospective observational study.
One-hundred ten U.S. hospitals in the Cerner HealthFacts dataset (primary cohort) and four hospitals in Eastern Massachusetts (secondary cohort used for detailed medical record reviews).
Adults hospitalized from April 2016 to December 2017.
Measurements and Main Results
We identified hospitalizations with 10th Edition codes for sepsis (including sepsis, septicemia, severe sepsis, and septic shock) and compared "short stay sepsis" patients (defined as discharge alive within 3 d) versus nonshort stay sepsis patients using detailed electronic health record data. In the Cerner cohort, 67,733 patients had sepsis discharge diagnosis codes, including 6,918 (10.2%) with short stays. Compared with nonshort stay sepsis patients, short stay patients were younger (median age 60 vs 67 yr) and had fewer comorbidities (median Elixhauser score 5 vs 13), lower rates of positive blood cultures (8.2% vs 24.1%), lower rates of ICU admission (6.2% vs 31.6%), and less frequently had severe sepsis/septic shock codes (13.5% vs 36.6%). Almost all short stay and nonshort stay sepsis patients met systemic inflammatory response syndrome criteria at admission (84.5% and 87.5%, respectively); 47.2% of those with short stays had Sequential Organ Failure Assessment scores of 2 or greater at admission versus 73.2% of those with longer stays. Findings were similar in the secondary four-hospital cohort. Medical record reviews demonstrated that physicians commonly diagnosed sepsis based on the presence of systemic inflammatory response syndrome criteria, elevated lactates, or positive blood cultures without concurrent organ dysfunction.
In this large U.S. cohort, one in 10 patients coded for sepsis were discharged alive within 3 days. Although most short stay patients met systemic inflammatory response syndrome criteria, they met Sepsis-3 criteria less than half the time. Our findings underscore the incomplete uptake of Sepsis-3 definitions, the breadth of illness severities encompassed by both traditional and new sepsis definitions, and the possibility that some patients with sepsis recover very rapidly.