The extent that universal social determinants of health (SDH) screening in clinical encounters, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, has been implemented in inpatient pediatric settings is unknown. We aimed to determine the national prevalence and predictors of standardized SDH screening in US level 2 to 4 neonatal care units (NICUs), describe characteristics of SDH screening programs, and ascertain beliefs of clinical leaders about this practice in the NICU setting.
We randomly selected 100 hospitals with level 2 to 4 NICUs among each of 5 US regions (n = 500) and surveyed clinical leaders from January to November 2021 regarding standardized SDH screening. Responses were weighted for number of level 2 to 4 NICUs in each region and nonresponse.
Overall response rate was 34% (28%–40% by region). Twenty-three percent of US level 2 to 4 NICUs reported standardized SDH screening. We found no associations of hospital characteristics, such as region, size, or safety-net status, with implementation of this practice. Existing programs conducted systematic screening early in the hospitalization (84%), primarily led by social workers (92%). We identified practice variation regarding the type of screening tool, but there was substantial overlap among domains incorporated in the screening. Reported barriers to implementation included perceived lack of resources, inadequate referrals, and lack of an inpatient screening tool.
The prolonged neonatal hospitalization provides opportunities to systematically address SDH. Yet, only 23% of US level 2 to 4 NICUs have implemented this practice. To scale-up implementation, quality improvement may support adaptation of screening and referral processes to the NICU context.