Providence is working to end health inequities related to sepsis


In this article:

  • Sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals; however, it disproportionately affects people in certain ethnic groups.

  • Shelley L. Sanders, M.D., F.A.C.P., an internal medicine physician at Providence, shares how Providence is closing the gap on sepsis-related health inequities.

  • Learn the symptoms of sepsis you should know.

Raising awareness about health inequities and sepsis

Sepsis is the leading cause of death in hospitals throughout the U.S. The condition is a severe response to an infection in your body that could result in organ damage. Sepsis is common among those living with chronic conditions and illnesses such as cancer and diabetes, as well as lung, kidney and liver disease.

Shelley L. Sanders, M.D, F.A.C.P., says certain ethnic minorities and populations are more likely to develop sepsis or complications related to sepsis.

“People of color are twice as likely to develop sepsis. They are more likely to have severe sepsis and they’re more likely to pass away from sepsis. We are trying to raise awareness, but without frightening people,” Dr. Sanders says.

Why health inequities exist in health care

The World Health Organization defines health inequity as “systematic differences in the health status of different population groups.” This means there are avoidable differences in the health of certain populations. Health inequities can lead to barriers to accessing health care, lower life expectancy, and preventable death.

Health inequities occur as a result of racism, sexism and classism. It can lead to worse outcomes for everyone, not just certain populations. For example, health inequity can make it difficult to stop the spread of contagious infections. It can also decrease productivity and employment due to misdiagnosis or inappropriate treatment.

Moojan Rezvan, supervisor of interpreter and diversity services at Providence, says it’s important to realize that people from various demographics have different needs.

“At Providence, we understand that different populations have different needs. If we provide the same services for everyone, that’s not equity. Some people may need more of our services,” Rezvan says.

Closing the gap in sepsis-related health inequities

Dr. Sanders and Rezvan are doing their part to make sure everyone has equitable care when it comes to the treatment of sepsis. This means increasing access to interpretive services so people can understand their diagnosis and treatment.

“We translated our educational information into four languages and have comprehensive interpreter services available. We want to make sure our patients feel comfortable and can ask any questions they may have,” Rezvan says.

Dr. Sanders is also trying to find new ways to reach people. When she saw a disparity with more readmissions for sepsis among black patients, she organized a focus group to learn more. This led to the creation of an educational graphic novel based on the feedback from the focus group.

“We had a graphic designer and novelist at the focus group to sketch a storyline. We start with the ambulance ride and through the hospital stay and end with recovery at home. We’ve found that it’s a little easier for some folks to listen to a story of someone else,” Dr. Sanders says.

Symptoms of sepsis you should know

Dr. Sanders stresses the importance of educating people on the signs and symptoms of sepsis. She says education will help end health inequities surrounding sepsis and improve health outcomes.

“Many people don’t even know what sepsis is and that’s the awareness we really want to bring to the table. We want people to know the signs and symptoms and when to seek care,” Dr. Sanders says.

You may be at risk for sepsis if you are hospitalized and have IV lines or surgical wounds. Other risk factors include:

  • Abdominal infections
  • Brain or spine infections
  • Liver or gallbladder infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections

 Some common signs and symptoms associated with sepsis are:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Fever and chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Severe pain
  • Skin rash

Sepsis is considered a medical emergency. If you think you may have sepsis, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

Contributing caregiver

Shelley L. Sanders, M.D, F.A.C.P.,  is an internal medicine physician at Providence St. Joseph. 

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Related resources

Breaking down barriers to care: Sepsis

What you need to know about sepsis

KPTV Health Watch: Sepsis Awareness with Dr. Sanders

How to choose between the ER, urgent care and your PCP

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.