Implementation of sepsis order sets to decrease the time to antibiotics in the emergency department: a quality improvement initiative

SHSC-AV-Sepsis Order Sets

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (ED)

Background: Sepsis is a life-threatening syndrome, and delays to appropriate antibiotic therapy increases mortality. Order sets have shown decrease in time to antibiotics in pneumonia, and in sepsis, the implementation of order sets resulted in more intravenous fluids, appropriate initial antibiotics and lower mortality. 


Aim Statement: The goal was to create an order set for an approach to septic patients, to improve sepsis management. We sought to improve time from triage to first antibiotics, by 15 minutes, for Emergency Department (ED) patients with sepsis in three months after implementation compared to three months before. 


Measures & Design: We used a literature review, as well as comparison to existing order sets at other EDs to design our initial order set. We underwent multiple revisions based on stakeholder feedback. We educated physician and nursing teams about the order sets, although use was ultimately at physician discretion. We implemented the order set on April 9, 2017. After three months, an electronic retrospective chart review identified patients with a final sepsis diagnosis admitted to the critical care unit. For each patient, we captured triage time using the electronic record, and time to antibiotics from when the antibiotic was taken out of the medication cart. Finally, utilization of order sets was checked via manual chart audit. 


Evaluation/Results: A run chart did not demonstrate any shifts or trends suggesting a change after implementation. Median time to antibiotics in minutes, 3 months prior (n = 45) and post (n = 55) intervention, increased from 245 to 340 minutes, although the range was very large. Chart audits demonstrated clinicians were not using the order sets. There was 10% usage for 2 of the months and 0% usage the other month, post-intervention. 


Disucssion/Impact: There was insufficient uptake of the Sepsis Order Set by the Sunnybrook ED to result in any impact on time to antibiotics. Order sets require more than just implementation to be effective. Difficulties in implementation were due to the document not being readily available to physicians. To mediate, we have organized nursing staff to attach the order set onto charts based on triage assessment and will re-assess with another PDSA cycle after this intervention.


Authors: K. Akilan, V. Teo, D. Hefferon and A. Verma

Ongoing PDSA cycles