A computerized alert screening for severe sepsis in emergency department patients increases lactate testing but does not improve inpatient mortality

Tony Berger, A. Birnbaum, P. Bijur, G. Kuperman, P. Gennis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Objective: This study tested the hypothesis that lactate testing in ED sepsis patients could be increased using a computer alert that automatically recognizes systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) criteria and recommends lactate testing in cases of sepsis defined as ≥2 SIRS criteria plus physician suspicion of infection. Secondary outcomes included the effect of the alert on lactate testing among admitted sepsis patients, the proportion of admitted patients with lactate ≥4.0 mmol/L identified and the in-patient mortality difference before and after alert implementation. Methods: After a 6 month pre-alert phase, a computer alert was implemented that computed and displayed abnormal vital signs and white blood cell counts for all patients with >2 SIRS criteria and recommended testing lactate if an infection was suspected. Data for admitted patients was collected electronically on consecutive patients meeting sepsis criteria for 6 months before and 6 months after implementation of the alert. Results: There were a total of 5,796 subjects enrolled. Among all septic patients, lactate testing increased from 5.2% in the pre-alert phase to 12.7% in the alert phase, a 7.5% (95% CI 6.0 to 9.0%) absolute increase in lactate testing, p<0.001. Among the 1,798 admitted patients with sepsis, lactate testing increased from 15.3% to 34.2%, an 18.9% (95% CI 15.0 to 22.8%) absolute increase, p<0.001. Among admitted patients with sepsis, there was a 1.9% (95% CI 0.03 to 3.8%, p = 0.05) increase in absolute number of patients with elevated lactate levels identified and a 0.5% (95% CI -1.6 to 2.6%, p=0.64) decrease in mortality. Conclusion: The proportion of ED patients who had lactate tested and the number of admitted patients identified with a lactate level ≥4.0 mmol/L improved significantly after the implementation of a computer alert identifying sepsis patients with >2 SIRS criteria while mortality among admitted sepsis patients remained unchanged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)394-407
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Clinical Informatics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Computerized alert
  • Emergency
  • Informatics
  • Lactate
  • SIRS
  • Sepsis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Information Management


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