Kristen Miller, DrPH

Miller awarded 1.4 million to develop Sepsis alert system

Saving lives through early detection and treatment

Kristen Miller, DrPH '12

Developing an innovative approach to detect and treat sepsis, a life-threatening organ dysfunction, is the objective of a team lead by a Texas A&M School of Public Health former student.

Kristen Miller, DrPH ’12, has been awarded a 4-year, 1.4 million R01 research grant from the US National Library of Medicine through the US National Institutes of Health to develop a new approach to detect and treat sepsis, which nationally infects about 1 million people annually, killing a quarter of them.

“This research will advance what is known in the field and has the capacity to improve clinical decision-making, delivery and the health of patients,” said Miller who is principal investigator on the project. The study is in collaboration with MedStar Health where Miller currently works, and the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Sepsis occurs when a body is experiencing a severe response to a bacterial, fungal, viral or yeast infection. Early identification of sepsis is critical to survival. For every hour that treatment is delayed, the chance of dying from sepsis increases 7.5 percent.

Often the signs can be subtle, which is where computer-assisted guidance would be helpful. Instead of having to hunt among patients’ medical records to piece together the big picture, the alert system Miller’s team will develop will assess danger by recording such data as abnormalities in vital signs, respiratory rate, kidney and other organ function and mental status.

Miller, who is a founding member of the School of Public Health’s alumni board, has research interests in the design, implementation and evaluation of clinical bioinformatics - basically how you display information in a meaningful way.

The project won’t be studying patients, but their health care providers. The team will test various ways to display information that will most effectively alert the providers to possible danger and guide them through evidence-based best practices to turn the infection around before it becomes deadly.

Using a mobile usability lab, researchers will better be able to collaborate with providers in medical and surgical units in rural, urban, academic and community settings.

“Our objective is to determine the best way to provide a sepsis alert to improve decision-making in the health care work environment,” Miller said. “We believe the design of the alert plays a significant role in provider recognition and response. Ultimately, it will improve the response of providers and result in better, quicker and most appropriate treatments.”

Health care providers often complain that in today’s digital world, they are inundated with alerts and flags.

“This project is about taking the information that health care providers have in their computer systems and presenting it to them in a way that makes them not only aware that sepsis is present, but helps guide them to make the right treatment choices,” Miller said.