Sepsis Main

In recognition of Sepsis Awareness Month in September, clinicians across the health system sought to improve care for this highly common, life-threatening complication by discussing strategies for prevention, the critical importance of early detection, and the steps involved in rapid treatment. At Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, though, a simple lecture or an overview during a staff huddle just wouldn’t do.

Last year, Scheie 3’s Lauren McPeake, RN, was determined to try something a little more engaging and ambitious to further the conversation about sepsis and get her colleagues thinking outside of the box. The result: a patient simulation-based project that combined education with an escape room.

“When I saw an opportunity to use my experience from the ED to improve the knowledge and quick recognition of sepsis on the ACE unit, I worked with the nurse manager and clinical nurse specialist on my floor to develop a project to improve our care for patients with sepsis,” McPeake said. “Personally, I don’t learn well from didactic teaching, and I felt my peers might gain a better understanding with something more hands-on.”


To celebrate National Sepsis Awareness Day this year, McPeake joined forces with Casey Lieb, MSN, RN, also on Scheie 3, and clinical nurse educators Paula Gabriel, MSN, CCRN-CMC, and Sarah D'Ambrosia, MSN, RN, CCRN, to build off of her original unit-based project and create an immersive — and highly memorable — escape-room-based learning experience that staff across the hospital could participate in.

Sepsis occurs when infection-fighting chemicals released in the bloodstream trigger inflammation throughout the body, resulting in impaired blood flow, tissue damage, organ failure, and potential death. Not only is sepsis the leading cause of readmissions and the single largest cost to hospitals nationwide, but it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States, with one person developing sepsis every 20 seconds, and one death occurring every two minutes. The risks are higher for patients with compromised immune systems, but ultimately all individuals are at risk regardless of age or health status. If caught early, antibiotics and fluids can increase chances for survival — but the key word is “early.”

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“Our goal was to emphasize that sepsis is a clinical emergency that needs to be addressed immediately to prevent escalation,” Lieb said. “It can take a dangerous turn in no time at all, so clinicians need to be able to recognize the signs and be comfortable taking action.” To underscore the fact that rapid intervention is necessary to improve patient outcomes, the team created a series of puzzles, cryptograms, emoji riddles, and other “C.A.L.F.” challenges (Cultures, Antibiotics, Lactate levels, and Fluids) that needed to be solved in order to escape the room and save the mock patient. Like all escape rooms, it required participants to be highly aware of their surroundings, work together, and be resourceful within a time limit reflective of the short time it takes for sepsis to escalate and develop into septic shock.

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Their creativity paid off, and the escape room proved a great success – even getting some substantial local media coverage! Because participants were testing their knowledge, reviewing procedures, and improving their observation and problem-solving skills in a safe, low-risk environment, they were able to take an active part in their own education.

“It’s so important to consider the possibility of sepsis early and to be equipped to respond, and I think this having a hands-on opportunity to learn drives that point home,” McPeake said. “It’s fun and much more engaging than being lectured at, but more importantly, it’s practice, and practice is key to developing an effective response to such a serious problem.”

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