A Quality Initiative to Implement a Managed Sepsis Protocol in a Public Hospital Based on the IHI Quality Improvement Model: Experience Report

Leidy Katerine Calvo Nates*

Médico General de la Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira, USA

Adriano J Pereira

Hospital Municipal da Vila Santa Catarina, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

Antônio C Neto

Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

Eliezer Silva

School of Post-Graduation in Health Sciences of the Brazilian Israeli Beneficent Society Albert Einstein Hospital, SP, Brazil

Corresponding Author:
Leidy Katerine Calvo Nates
Médico General de la Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira -TP 79948/19 y RM 19 8469
Médica Generalista revalidada pela UNESP - CRM 182349 SP
Mestrado em Ciencias da Saúde Escola de Pós- Graduação Stricto Sensu da Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Brasileira do Hospital Albert Einstein - (SBIBHAE), USA
Tel: 11971066592
E-mail: [email protected]

Submitted date: October 11, 2017; Accepted date: October 20, 2017; Published date: October 27, 2017

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Background: Although 13 years have passed since the first publication of the international treatment guidelines, sepsis continues to be the leading cause of death in Brazilian Intensive Care Units (ICU), with lethality rates of 55%. The main causes of such high rates are poor adherence to the Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC) guidelines and insufficient implementation of the measures indicated in the care package. The present study reports our experience in implementing a Managed Sepsis Protocol (MSP) in a public hospital.

Methods: In order to improve the care for septic patients, we based our actions on the Quality Improvement Model (QIM), the methodology widespread by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI-USA), using the Plan-Do-Study- Act (PDSA) cycle to deploy and standardize processes.

Results: Main obstacles during in the implementation of a Managed Sepsis Protocol (MSP) were: low levels of staff engagement with setting of poor priorities; inadequate notification of new sepsis cases and data collection; lack of automatic alarms system for sepsis detection and of a reference multidisciplinary team, unclear patient flow and definition of team member roles. After a series of interventions focused on the standardization of sepsis management processes, we observed 70% compliance with the SSC care-bundle and that the reporting of suspected cases increased by 60%. In addition, the time interval between the opening of the MSP for a given patient and the arrival of the initial standard sepsis-evaluating lab tests was shortened to 30 min.

Conclusion: We conclude that the IHI quality-improvement model seems to be a suitable tool to implement sepsis management protocols.


Quality improvement; Healthcare; Mortality


Local problem and rationale

Sepsis is an important public health problem in Brazil. Its prevalence has been increasing together with the associated high mortality rates, especially in the Intensive Care Units (ICUs) of public hospitals [1-4], despite the related international efforts to raise awareness [5,6] and the creation of initiatives to improve the performance of sepsis care programs [7-9].

Our concern was centered on the poor adherence to the Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC) guidelines [10] and the apparent inadequate compliance with the directives of its 3 and 6 h care-bundles by health professionals from Brazilian public hospitals described in previous studies. These failures led to delays in the onset of correct diagnosis and management and contributed to augment mortality [11].

Adequate adherence to SSC guidelines results in significant reduction of mortality rates [12-14].

The Municipal Hospital of Vila Santa Catarina (HMVSC) is a general and tertiary referral Center, located in the southern region of the city of São Paulo, the capital of the State of São Paulo in Brazil, recently established through a public-private partnership. A specific recognition system of septic patients, which would facilitate the triggering of a coordinated, gradual and rapid response, was needed in face of the characteristics of the HMVSC. Our research group believed that its recent inauguration and recently hired personnel would be a suitable ground to implement the SSC guidelines. In addition, the personnel and the economic and structural resources of HMVSC are those common to other institutions of the Brazilian Unified Health System.

Background and available knowledge

There are no consistent data on the incidence of sepsis in Latin American ICUs, including Brazil [1] although a few reviews report an incidence of 57 cases per 1000 patients [2,4].

According to the Latin American Sepsis Institute (LASI) data that were obtained from a total of i230 ICUs, the mean mortality due to sepsis was 55% [4]. Mortality has been increasing because of several factors such as: longer time between suspected dysfunction and diagnosis, lower adherence to the guidelines of early and proper blood sampling for cultures and lactate levels, lower frequency of diagnosed patients in the first hour after admission, higher score in the "Sequential Multi- Organic Failure Assessment" (SOFA) at the time of diagnosis, greater number of organ dysfunctions [4,11], hospital infection acquired in the ICU itself, delayed administration of antibiotics and general lack of resources [4,15].

Studies in the area of quality improvement in sepsis suggest that the implementation of SSC care bundles in different hospital contexts has had different degrees of success [16-18]. Successful programs are largely based on the use of approaches that describe, develop and evaluate specific interventions that have a real, direct and sustainable effect on the care of sepsis patients. The strategies aim to change the prevalent culture and the organizational processes. Specifically they are designed to induce higher awareness in the attending personnel towards the early recognition and the rapid onset of basic care in the first 3 h. In order to achieve this goal efficient and effective collaboration among assistance teams involved in the initial evaluation is required.

Therefore, our research group decided to conduct a quality improvement project with emphasis on the use of strategies widespread by the IHI that should facilitate higher adherence to the SSC guidelines. The specific focus was in meeting the quality standards of the basic set of interventions, known as "resuscitation" [1], which has shown a 40-60% relative risk reduction in mortality [13,19-21].

The present article reports our experience with the Quality Improvement Model (QIM) in the implantation of a Managed Sepsis Protocol (MSP) in the public hospital HMVSC in a period of 18 months.


Context and baseline measurement

The data were extracted from a prospective audit of hospitalized adult patients diagnosed with sepsis and septic shock between January 2016 and June 2017.

Data were obtained from: Medical records the Department of Medical and Statistical Archive Services, laboratory screening records (reported panic alerts and organ perfusion related blood tests) and the Hospital Infection Control Service (HICS) screening records (registry of patients on intravenous antibiotic use).

The patients who were considered eligible to be included in the study fulfilled the criteria of the international sepsis and septic shock guidelines of 2016. Ineligible patients were those under 18 years of age, patients in palliative care and/or patients with a medical order of non-resuscitation.


This is a longitudinal, prospective, non-randomized study lasting 18 months. It was conducted in three phases: 1) ICU, 2) inpatient areas (including internal medicine, general surgery, oncology, transplantation and obstetrics) and 3) the obstetrics emergency service.

Following the directions of QIM of IHI, we created Multidisciplinary Work Teams (MWTs), capable of creating a work plan that contained a multifaceted set of strategies and interventions to improve the management of sepsis. This approach allowed the identification of the causes of inadequate sepsis management particular to the HMVSC and the problem- solving proposals.

The study is based mainly on three questions that were put forward by the scientific method popularized by the IHI: (1) what are we trying to accomplish? (2) how will we know if a change is a true improvement? (3) which changes can be made that would result in a real improvement?

These issues were addressed by three main actions: (a) establishing a clear and specific goal; (b) defining a set of outcomes, processes, and balanced and (c) selection of specific interventions conceived to eliminate the perceived gaps in the care of critically-ill patients [22-25].

Team and interventions

The MWTs of quality improvement in sepsis were assigned through an invitation to participate in the project made by our research group to the hospital's senior leadership. In turn, the board indicated the medical and nursing coordinators. These identified a clinical representative of reference in the recognition, diagnosis and treatment of sepsis.

Thus, a total of 3 MWTs were formed consisting of: (a) representatives of senior management (director), a specialist in the care of sepsis (intensive care physician), day-to-day personnel (medical coordination and nursing) (internist, a senior full-time nurse, and a nursing technician/assistant), as well as members of the research group (specialists in quality improvement and hospital management, clinical and experimental research and a postgraduate student in the area of health sciences).

An Ishikawa diagram was constructed with the identified main causes of septic shock and of the sepsis-caused hospital lethality (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Ishikawa diagram of the managed sepsis protocol of HMVSC (cause and effect).

The purpose of doing this was to simplify, to standardize the work process and to remove barriers at the time of MSP implementation.

The Driver Diagrams (DDs) elaborated by the MWTs and by the research group contained the key interventions that would trigger the specific actions that would result in true improvements in the care of the septic patient. The actions were conceived to be safe, rapid, focused and to be executed in a standardized manner (Supplementary File 1).

Study of the interventions

The DDs was designed to use the personnel and the technological and economic resources already existing at the hospital without the need for additional funding.

The interventions were carried out as follows: (1) ICU during 5 months (January-May, 2016); (2) inpatient areas during 7 months (June-December, 2016) and (3) emergency obstetrics service during 5 months (January-June, 2017).

The data collection was monthly and continuous during the implementation of the interventions. The maintenance of these with time was also evaluated.

The data as well as the sepsis parameters were recorded in a database to be later analyzed by statistical methods.

Quantified parameters

The following parameters were recorded: (1) sepsis lethality rates and septic shock occurrence to 25%; 2) rate of compliance to the 3 h SSC care bundles and (3) self-reported staff workloads among MWTs participants during the implementation and related satisfaction assessment with the MSP.


For the qualitative data, a content analysis facilitating the systematic description (literature review) was carried out to explain, interpret and understand the functionality and usefulness of all instruments or tools created and designed in DDs.

This manuscript was developed according to the guidelines SQUIRE V.2.0.13.

Formulation of the design and strategy

The first step was to improve the early recognition of sepsis.

An early warning system for the detection of sepsis (standard trigger tool for use by nursing staff) was created. This tool, called "suspected sepsis", had the function of immediately triggering the MSP (yellow code). This tool’s menu includes a mixture of the criteria of Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS) and the "quick-SOFA" Scale (qSOFA) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Stamp suspected of sepsis.

We introduced decision and allocation algorithms for the ICU septic patients (common and special groups or with risk factors). They were based on SSC guidelines and were reproduced in poster format and displayed in all areas participant in the hospital study. Such algorithms would act as visual reminders on the recognition and diagnostic confirmation of sepsis–suspected patients, ideally within the first hour of the initial evaluation (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3: Algorithm of decision and allocation of septic patients common.

Figure 4: Algorithm of decision and allocation of septic patient’s special groups.

A set of standard tests called the HMVSC sepsis care bundle were established within the electronic Hospital Management System (HMS), which should be requested by the physician to confirm sepsis-related organ dysfunction (Supplementary File 2).

For the rapid processing of the samples taken from septic patients a red stamp called "sepsis protocol" was created. This stamp signalled the laboratory that the samples should have priority in processing and sending the result.

Each sector of the hospital received standard kits for sample collection called the "sepsis collection kit".

The ICU sepsis MWT and the HICS created a Standard Medical Prescription for Sepsis (SMPS). It should be completed by the medical doctor at the opening of the MSP (Supplementary File 3).

We contacted the pharmacy and diagnostic imaging services of the hospital to inform them about the study. Pharmacy coordination was committed to prioritizing the dispensing of antibiotics, serum and vasopressors. Likewise, the coordination of diagnostic imaging service established a maximum period of 2 h for carrying out the examinations (radiology, ultrasound and computed tomography) for the identification of infectious foci.

The sepsis MWTs for the inpatient areas redesigned the vital signs bag controls giving it a new color format. This new bag has "color control knobs" and operates as an auxiliary alarm system, helping the technicians and nurse assistants to improve the monitoring, reinforcing the identification of high-risk patients who may progress to sepsis and, therefore, possibly avoids hours of decompensation and complications (Supplementary File 4).

Another proposition was to call attention of the frontline medical and nursing staff to the implications of poor management of septic patients and to the novel strategies created by sepsis MWT. This was implemented through a series of short presentations and informal discussions of the related inpatients’ clinical cases; they were offered over a period of 1 month in each intervention area of the program.

The new MSP was also spread through letters sent by the hospital medical board to be personally delivered to all medical personnel. In addition the hospital’s quality and safety department posted on the institutional intranet the new MSP document depicting in a flow chart each person task in the MSP (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Flow of team roles in the activation of the managed SEPSIS protocol of HMVSC.

We chose, among the nursing personnel and technicians, leaders who were called "sepsis champions". These were in charge of spreading their acquired knowledge on early recognition of sepsis and of ensuring the routine functioning of the new MSP (good utilization of tools) so as to maintain the dynamics of our project.

An educational video was also created for patients that have risk factors for sepsis (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQfe6D2hFKg). This video is also shown, on the day of hospital discharge, to all patients who were hospitalized for sepsis and/or septic shock; it should facilitate the nursing home care.

Finally, a notification system was established for suspected sepsis and septic shock. This system, called the "Sepsis Key", is activated by the attending staff via telephone connection to an institutional branch.

Ethical considerations

The present study was submitted and approved by the research ethics council of the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein and by the Municipal Health Department of the city of São Paulo. It was a localized quality improvement project with no potential harm to patients.


Cycle 1 PDSA

The meetings with each MWTs were held once a week in the first two months and every two weeks during the following months to elaborate the DDs. Once the DDs were completed, the MWT met every eight weeks to monitor the implementation process. In this first cycle, the research group tested the routine care of 3 septic patients in real time between the ICU, pharmacy, diagnostic image and laboratory. It was shown that monitoring of these cases should be increased by 50% to be fully effective. The feedback received after this initial testing process allowed us to create the cause and effect diagram of sepsis lethality in the hospital.

Cycle 2 PDSA

In order to increase the awareness towards the diagnostic criteria and initial recognition of sepsis, the team worked with the front-line staff several "suspected sepsis" drafts including the process of decision making and algorithms allocation for septic patients as well as the prescription according to the SMPS. This procedure facilitated the collection of quality indicators related to compliance with the SSC 3 and 6 h care bundles. The team stated that these instruments achieved the objectives of fast identification and offering a quick guide for the diagnosis and treatment of sepsis-suspected patients in a safe and organized way. Such a protocol allows rational treatment of such patients and increased compliance by 70% to the SSC first 3 h care bundle.

Cycle 3 PDSA

With the notification system "Key Sepsis" notification of suspected cases increased by 60%.

The stamp "protocol sepsis" accelerated, from the routine 120 min to 30 min, the processing and the delivery of laboratory results to arterial lactate samples. The processing and the delivery of laboratory results to other blood tests of organic dysfunction were ready 60 min after MSP start on.

The MWTs negotiated with the laboratory coordination the retreat to check an item called "collection list" in the electronic order for the MSP laboratory tests in the hospital management system by the nursing. Therefore, such samples arrived in up to 10 min at the laboratory after being collected. This function was performed by other personnel who were not directly involved in the collection process.

Discussion and Interpretation

The previous results show that our interventions have achieved significant improvements in the recognition, diagnosis and treatment of sepsis.

The study's quantitative results will be available by the end of 2017.

The most notable aspect of this project was the possibility of implementing the SSC guidelines in a public hospital situated in an underdeveloped country of limited resources. In order to accomplish this, the research team interacted and successfully involved all the hospital staff members who directly or indirectly care for sepsis or sepsis-suspected patients. In addition the team had to be able to teach and, at the same time, to understand how to monitor and control in a quick, simple and effective way the required procedures to best treat these critical patients.

According to the published experiences from other similar studies, the maintenance of projects in the area of quality improvement is a constant challenge due to the constant change and/or rotation of the care staff [15,26-28]. Certainly, there are no magic in providing correct management of sepsis in accordance to SSC guidelines. It requires an orderly effort of a dedicated and motivated multidisciplinary team in the execution of a diversity of tasks. Continuous adjustments of the protocols will be needed in order maintain the already achieved gains in the treatment of such severe medical conditions [26-30].

Nevertheless these 18 months allowed us to obviate obstacles and create solutions applicable to the different areas of inpatient care in the public hospital HMVSC, in a standardized, fast, effective and safe way.


The most important lessons learned were:

• Negotiation in addressing the needs fundamentally teamwork.

• In order to achieve success at the implantation of a protocol, it is necessary to investigate the experience of other hospitals that have carried out quality improvement projects, since this offers some assurance that the project can be effectively executed and will be successful.

• Understanding what really works as upgrade at each of the several steps of the new protocol and applying the PDSA cycle’s method as a refinement strategy ensures that the study remains focused towards achieving a specific goal.


Regarding the limitations of this project, we can say that after the 18 months length of this study it is necessary, in continuity, to test the sustainability of the project, which is one of the most important challenges for the future.

The HMVSC sepsis MWTs need to consolidate, stay alive and depend on highly motivated and dedicated medical and nursing staff. A larger flow of patients to the hospital and insufficient new hiring of personnel to cope with may limit the execution of some aspects of the MSP.

This project was initially developed as an academic work of a graduate student enrolled in the HIAE Graduate Students Program.

The cost generated to the Hospital Budget by the MSP implantation according to the 3 h care bundle was not yet assessed.

Finally, we hope that the working teams (MWT) strengthen their leadership in order to make this improvement process a continuous one.


Although the conclusions are based on only qualitative data or descriptive observations, they suggest that all the assistance staff and especially the front line gained the necessary knowledge based mainly on the experience provided the use of the QIM methodology. This method was originally used in the industrial area and was now used for the health area. It is a practical way and helped in the present application of its principles to solve problems regarding the management and care of sepsis- suspected and sepsis patients. The method improved work performance, making it more organized, faster, more timely and more standardized.

In addition it is important to mention that the breaking of bureaucratic barriers imposed by the existing internal hospital care procedures was only possible because reports on audits of clinical cases were brought to the attention of the higher administration levels.

Such reports indicated the malfunctioning of the existing clinical protocol and stressed the positive aspects of changing to new management protocols for sepsis. Although they took at first some time to establish, they became incorporated synchronously to the work routine and offered real improvements for health care.

The MWTs, through semi-structured interviews, reported that they did not perceive an increase in workload and expressed a good level of satisfaction with the methodology used, as they became participants in decision-making processes.


We would like to acknowledge the sepsis MWTs or their contribution to the development of this study: Guilherme de Paula Pinto Schettino, MD; Ana Paula Metran Nascente MD; Rosana Mandelbaum, MD; Adolfo Wenjaw Liao, MD; Monica Andrade de Carvalho, MD; Fernanda Domingos Giglio Petreche, MD; Cristina Tiemi Amadatsu, MD; Carolina Devite Bittante, MD; Midgley Gonzales, MD; Gabriela Sato, RN; Maitê Augusta C. C. Rossetto, RN; Adriana Martins da Silva, RN; Silvana Aparecida Eleodoro dos Santos, RN; Marcia Galluci Pinter, RN; Samira Scalso de Almeida, RN; Eliton Paulo Leite Lourenco, RN; Maria Aparecida Machado, Priscilla Santini Ramalho, RN; Erika Brosco Lima, RN; Marcelo L. Valvassora, RN; Caroline Gusmão Alves Santos, RN; Camila de Carvalho Gambin, RN; Natalia Nunez de Souza, RN; Maria Caroline de Oliveira, RN; Denise Simas Lamarão, RP; Francisco Neves Pereira, LA; Ana Paula Doria Santos, NA; Ernane Cruz da Silva, AI; and Ana Paula de Oliveira Ribeiro, AI.


Ises de Almeida Abrahamsohn, MD, assisted in the editing and correction of the English language of the manuscript.


This study represents an independent research without public or private financing, however, LKCN is supervised under a master's studentship funded by a foundation of the Brazilian Ministry of Education that is unrelated to this study.


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