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MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016 Apr 8;65(13):342-5. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6513a2.

Varying Estimates of Sepsis Mortality Using Death Certificates and Administrative Codes--United States, 1999-2014.

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Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC.


Sepsis is a clinical syndrome caused by a dysregulated host response to infection (1). Because there is no confirmatory diagnostic test, the diagnosis of sepsis is based on evidence of infection and clinical judgement. Both death certificates and health services utilization data (administrative claims) have been used to assess sepsis incidence and mortality, but estimates vary depending on the surveillance definition and data source. To highlight the challenges and variability associated with estimating sepsis mortality, CDC compared national estimates of sepsis-related mortality based on death certificates using the CDC WONDER database with published sepsis mortality estimates generated using administrative claims data from hospital discharges reported in the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2). During 2004-2009, using data rounded to thousands, the annual range of published sepsis-related mortality estimates based on administrative claims data was 15% to 140% higher (range = 168,000-381,000) than annual estimates generated using death certificate data (multiple causes) (range = 146,000-159,000). Differences in sepsis-related mortality reported using death certificates and administrative claims data might be explained by limitations inherent in each data source. These findings underscore the need for a reliable sepsis surveillance definition based on objective clinical data to more accurately track national sepsis trends and enable objective assessment of the impact of efforts to increase sepsis awareness and prevention.

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