OBJECTIVES:

Admission to the NICU is influenced by physiologic compromise and by hospital care protocols. Providing appropriate care must be balanced with adverse consequences of NICU admission, such as interrupting maternal–infant bonding and unnecessary interventions. This study aims to determine the variation in NICU admissions in term and late preterm infants among 19 hospitals.

METHODS:

We used the Consortium on Safe Labor (CSL) database to determine NICU admission rates. This database includes data from 217 442 infants aged 35 to 42 weeks within 19 US maternal delivery hospitals from 2002 to 2008. NICU admission rates were evaluated for absolute factors including, but not limited to, sepsis, asphyxia, respiratory distress, and intracranial hemorrhage, as well as relative factors, such as maternal drug use, chorioamnionitis, and infant birth weight ≤2500 g.

RESULTS:

Percentage of infants 35 to 42 weeks’ gestation admitted to the NICU without an identifiable absolute or relative cause for intensive care services ranged from 0% to 59.4% (mean, 10.8%; P < .001). Among infants 35 to 42 weeks’ gestation and ≥2500 g, infants without absolute or relative identified cause accounted for 9.1% of total NICU days and had lower length of stays (–2.7 days; 95% confidence interval –3.4; –2.1) compared to those with an identified reason.

CONCLUSIONS:

There is significant variation in admission rates among NICUs that cannot be explained by infant health conditions. Further analysis is needed to determine the cause of between-site variation and potential opportunities to refine protocols and optimize use of NICU services.

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