Sepsis Survivor Shines Light on Medical Errors


December 17th, 2018

Sepsis survivor and advocate, Sarah Kiehl, shares what it is like representing patients in diagnostic error research. Scroll down to read her first-hand account.

Over the past year, I have had the privilege of representing Sepsis Alliance as a patient partner on project “Patients Improving Research in Diagnosis,” created by SIDM (Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine) and granted by PCORI (Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute). It has been a humbling experience being part of a cohort of 20 amazing people from all over the country representing different organizations.

Sarah, sepsis, medical errorThis is the inaugural group for Project Patient Care, and the goal has been to find a team to evaluate a patient-centered curriculum for engaging patients as partners in diagnostic error research. The desired outcome is to train our group of patients as “patient safety leaders,” who are then integrated into research teams. After months of training, we continued our journey by attending the International Diagnostic Error in Medicine Conference in New Orleans, LA. This conference was attended by over 300 researchers and clinicians, as well as those from other areas within the medical field. The theme of the conference this year was “Innovating to Improve Diagnosis.”

Sepsis has an enormous space in diagnostic delay and error. Most of our stories shared at Sepsis Alliance include a delay or error, often which have resulted in loss of a life. During this conference sepsis was a hot topic of conversation. With sepsis being deemed “the silent killer” in medicine, there is so much room for improvement. The signs and symptoms are often overlooked or confused with other medical conditions relating to cognitive, gender, and age biases.

Our personal goal for this conference was to formulate our stories and present a 30-second rendition highlighting the biggest “what if” moment that could have changed the diagnosis or outcome. I will admit, formulating my own personal story of sepsis survival proved to be a daunting and intimidating task.

Following our work with research mentors, we presented to the room filled with medical professionals. Eleven of us stood up and told our stories in just 30 seconds, while making a substantial impact to which concluded with a standing ovation. Standing up and sharing my story was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever encountered.

As this project is wrapping up, I have come to realize I am not finished here. Too often, someone dies due to a wrong or delayed diagnosis. My life has been forever altered by sepsis, which is why I will continue my role in advocating for every person that has been affected by this overwhelming infection, while ensuring our voices are heard. I have hope that little by little, the patient impact will begin lessening diagnostic errors in medicine.