Defining Sepsis Coordinators
Sepsis – a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection – is a leading cause of mortality and critical illness worldwide. The Sepsis Alliance, an organization based in the United States and focused on improving sepsis awareness, has identified what it calls “sepsis coordinators.” It defines them as “expert leaders in the field of nursing with critical experience in caring for sepsis patients and developing and implementing sepsis protocols.”1
Numerous studies have demonstrated the significant role nursing plays in the early recognition of the signs and symptoms of sepsis, including the impact of nurse-led screenings in patient survival.2,3 Based on interviews conducted with three sepsis coordinators in October 2019, it’s clear that the role of sepsis coordinator can extend well beyond bedside nursing (the vast majority of sepsis coordinators are advanced practice nurses) to serving as educators, communicators, quality performance leaders, and sepsis champions in their institutions and communities.
Different Roles, Same Goals
“We all perform our roles differently”, explains Maureen Holtz, a sepsis coordinator in an urban hospital in the southeast. She cites her decades of emergency department (ED) experience, coupled with a more recent background in informatics, as helping her to understand the workflow of physicians and nurses and knowing when to intervene in the sepsis treatment protocol. She also points to education efforts outside the hospital, such as teaching their EMS partners to recognize the early signs of sepsis, so they can pre-alert hospitals and begin sepsis treatment in the field. By interfacing with clinical staff as well as populations at high risk for sepsis, such as new mothers and same day surgery patients, Maureen helps to identify the symptoms of sepsis and the importance of early intervention. Being a sepsis coordinator has also made her the “face of sepsis” in her hospital and community and affirms the importance of using her role as a platform for promoting awareness and early intervention.
Rosemary Grant, formerly a sepsis coordinator in a hospital system in the northwest, brings a background in quality improvement and project management to her roles, which she credits as enabling her to see the big picture. “Sepsis happens everywhere, and you have to listen to clinicians in multiple settings to hear their sepsis challenges.”
She sometimes does patient rounds with nurses “just to have conversations and look for areas of confusion and unanswered questions.” She believes her function in highlighting sepsis awareness is widely embraced by nurses who “always want to learn something new to make them more efficient, especially acute care nurses who have a lot on their plate and are helped by resources that keep sepsis on their minds.” She agrees that the role of the sepsis coordinators varies, depending on the institution, but educating and promoting patient awareness is paramount: “The most important person in the patient care chain is the nurse at your bedside — they may help save your life.”
Gregory Briddick, a sepsis coordinator at a teaching hospital in New York State, has a more unique role due to the state’s mandated reporting system known as the Rory Staunton Regulations, named for a boy who died from a delayed sepsis diagnosis, that requires hospitals to adopt best practices for the early identification and treatment of sepsis.4 Because of this heightened regulatory environment, he cites the need to be more engaged with clinicians in the process of capturing data related to the documentation of sepsis measures and the necessity of following hospital sepsis protocols.
Similar to the other sepsis coordinators, he plays a vital role in promoting awareness of sepsis among various hospital departments, but with a greater emphasis on engaging with teams on process of care and the standardization of clinical documentation. In this capacity, he also meets regularly with hospital departments and committees and emphasizes the importance of building relationships with team members to enhance communication and engagement around sepsis initiatives. This includes mandatory standards designed to improve the early recognition of sepsis and timely intervention.
The Sepsis Coordinators Network
In recognition of the growing importance and influence of sepsis coordinators, in 2018 the Sepsis Alliance launched the Sepsis Coordinators Network to foster support among peers, as well as provide tools and resources to help sepsis coordinators in improving care and outcomes across their facilities–and among the populations they serve.1 Notes Maureen Holtz, “the Sepsis Alliance has done a great job of setting up the Network because together we can brainstorm our roles and put it all together.”
A key contribution to the vital role of sepsis coordinators has been the evolution of best practices and technologies for recognizing and treating sepsis; important steps toward achieving the Sepsis Alliance’s goals of increasing awareness and reducing sepsis deaths by 20 percent by 2020.1
2. Promoting Early Identification of Sepsis in Hospitalized Patients with Nurse-Led Protocols, Critical Care, 2017. https://ccforum.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13054-016-1590-0 Accessed November 6, 2019.
3. The Third International Consensus Definitions for Sepsis and Septic Shock, Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA Network, February 2016. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2492881protocols Accessed November 6, 2019.
4. The Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention: Rory’s Regulations, 2019. https://rorystauntonfoundationforsepsis.org/rorys-regulations/ Accessed November 6, 2019.