5 Tips with Electronic Sepsis Notification Systems

  • Numerous studies have developed electronic tools for the detection of sepsis. As machine learning evolves, many more will probably abound.
  • Most evaluations are fraught with methodologic design pitfalls which preclude widespread implementation and use for patient identification and improved clinical outcomes.
  • The following review highlights the common dilemmas and misperceptions about electronic sepsis notification systems (ESNs) readers should be aware of.

TIP # 1: ESNs are not diagnostic of sepsis.

  • Sepsis remains a clinical diagnosis without a current gold standard definition.
  • ESNs identify patients requiring further clinical assessment to determine the presence of absence of sepsis.
  • Most screening tools (electronic as well as manual) rely on the outdated and no longer recommended abnormalities of the 1991 signs of systemic inflammatory response syndrome.

TIP # 2: Recently conducted large trials (tens of thousands of patients) have poor area under the receiver operator curve (AUROC) values.

  • The AUROC is the most useful in the early stages of clinical tool evaluations and is an effective way to summarize the overall accuracy.
  • A value of 0.5 indicates lack of discriminating ability
  • The large studies of ESNs indicate an AUROC of 0.3 – 0.6, indicating poor discriminating ability of sepsis patients.
  • A few evaluations report values in the 0.8 – 0.9 range, however are misleading due to the small number of sepsis patients evaluated.

TIP # 3: ESNs have low PPV and high NPV

  • The positive predictive value (PPV) is the probability that the patient with a positive screen truly has sepsis.
  • A negative predictive value (NPV) is the probability that a patient with a negative screen truly does not have sepsis.
  • Most ESNs have a low PPV (less than 25%) and a high NPV (greater than 90%).
  • This is expected from a screening test versus a lab test.
  • The implication is if the ESN does not activate, the patient does not have sepsis due to the high NPV.
  • Whereas, a patient with a high glucose value which activates a notification has a high PPV and low NPV.

TIP # 4: Impact of ESNs on Outcomes

  • Simply implementing an ESN will not guarantee improved clinical success.
  • An ESN is just 1 component of a sepsis program required to improve outcomes.
  • The timing of ESN activation (either prior to or at the same time of clinical recognition) is important, especially if the clinical team already had a strong suspicion of sepsis.

TIP # 5: Testing ESN on a group of known sepsis patients is not a true test.

  • Testing should occur in all patients to assess the ability of the ESN to discriminate between those with and without sepsis.
  • The definition of sepsis is also important. There are wide variances in the incidence of sepsis when billing/diagnostic codes are used versus clinician assessment of patient findings.


  • Electronic Sepsis Notification systems must be rigorously test and clinically validated before widespread acceptance into bedside use.
  • Activation of these systems are not analogous to known chemistry abnormalities, they indicate which patients need further assessment for sepsis.
  • Several discrepancies exist in ESN model development and clinical utility.

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Erkan Hassan is the Co-Founder & Chief Clinical Officer of Sepsis Program Optimization where he designs & oversees the implementation of solutions to optimize sepsis programs.

To discuss your organization’s Barriers of Effective Sepsis Care, contact Erkan by phone (844) 4SEPSIS (844-473-7747), email (erkan@spo.icu), or video chat.