Implications of the new sepsis definition on research and practice

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The Society of Critical-Care Medicine and the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine recently announced a marked change in the sepsis definition. A task force of 19 sepsis clinicians and researchers made the change based on advances in the pathobiological understanding of the septic process.

Summary of change:

The task force determined that there were numerous justifications for a revision of the sepsis definition, which are outlined in this article. The systemic inflammatory response criteria have been replaced by the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score in the newly operationalized definition (Singer et al., 2016). In addition to the definition change, the task force recommended using the new quick SOFA (qSOFA) score in non-ICU settings, as a risk stratification tool to identify patients who may be septic or be at risk of developing sepsis.

Implications on research & practice:

The change in definition will likely have a negative impact on sepsis research in the short-term as hospitals adjust their coding for the new definition, but may result in less misclassification bias and improved research data in the long-term. While the intent of the SCCM/ESICM task force was to better define sepsis for coding and epidemiological research purposes, there is the potential for improved patient outcomes if clinicians are better able to differentiate between sepsis and inflammatory events. The qSOFA tool may also aid clinicians in recognizing sepsis in a quicker manner, leading to more timely treatment, and potentially better outcomes.


While the new operationalized Sepsis-3 definition appears on the surface to be an improvement over the previous iterations, it remains to be seen if research data will be more robust using the new criteria. There is the potential for better patient outcomes if clinicians are better able to differentiate sepsis from inflammatory events with the new definition, and if sepsis cases are recognized sooner with qSOFA. Future research on the impact of this definition change on research and practice will be essential, to determine if the Sepsis 3 definition, its associated clinical criteria, and the qSOFA need further revision.

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