Here's another reason why those multi-million dollar electronic health record systems might be finally paying off, in terms of lives potentially saved.
According to new research, EHRs can be used to predict the early stages of sepsis, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., responsible for killing some 210,000 people each year.
Researchers at UC Davis have found that routine health data – blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature and white blood cell count – from the EHRs of hospitalized patients can detect the illness earlier in its infancy and help pinpoint what patients are at high risk of developing the disease.
After analyzing the EHRs of some 741 sepsis patients, researchers were also able to determine that just three measures – lactate level, blood pressure and respiratory rate – can pinpoint the likelihood a patient will die from the disease.
Patients are rarely screened for blood lactate levels because sepsis is difficult to distinguish in its early stages, researchers say. The blood test also lacks specificity, as if a patient were shown to have elevated lactate levels, this would not necessarily point to sepsis. Other diseases or causes may be at play.
Additionally, while early treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics and intravenous fluids is associated with better outcomes for those with sepsis, the potential harm from those treatments for low-risk patients far outweighs the benefits.
"Finding a precise and quick way to determine which patients are at high risk of developing the disease is critically important," said study co-author Hien Nguyen, associate professor of internal medicine and medical director of EHRs at UC Davis, in a March 17 news release announcing study findings. "We wanted to see if EHRs could provide the foundation for knowing when aggressive diagnosis and treatment are needed and when they can be avoided."
The research team is now working on a specific sepsis-risk algorithm that can be automatically calculated in the EHR.
Overall, Tim Alberston, chair of UC Davis Department of Internal Medicine, seems pleased with the study results, as they indicate that EHRs have the big potential to be utilized to improve patient outcomes.
"We have shown that they can also be powerful resources for identifying best practices in medicine and reducing patient mortality," Albertson said in a statement.