Computers May Have Cracked the Code to Diagnosing Sepsis – The Atlantic

Each year in the United States, sepsis kills more than a quarter million people—more than stroke, diabetes, or lung cancer. One reason for all this carnage is that if sepsis is not detected in time, it’s essentially a death sentence. Consequently, much research has focused on catching sepsis early, but the condition’s complexity has plagued existing clinical support systems—electronic tools that use pop-up alerts to improve patient care—with low accuracy and high rates of false alarm.

One such example, known as the SIRS criteria, says a patient is at risk of sepsis if two of four clinical signs—body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, white-blood-cell count—are abnormal. This broadness, although helpful for catching the various ways sepsis might present itself, triggers countless false positives. Take a patient with a broken arm: “A computerized system might say, ‘Hey, look, fast heart rate, breathing fast.’ It might throw an alert,” says Cyrus Shariat, an ICU physician at Washington Hospital in California. The patient almost certainly doesn’t have sepsis but would nonetheless trip the alarm.

Computers May Have Cracked the Code to Diagnosing Sepsis – The Atlantic