OBJECTIVE. Kernicterus is a rare but devastating condition. The prevention of bilirubin-induced brain injury is based on the detection of infants at risk for developing severe hyperbilirubinemia. In an 18-hospital health system, Intermountain Health Care (IHC), we initiated a program of predischarge bilirubin screening of all neonates and coupled this with a results assessment using a percentile-based nomogram. Data during 2 periods of time, before versus after initiating the program, were compared to assess the effect of the program on significant hyperbilirubinemia and rehospitalization.

METHODS. We conducted a historic cohort study involving all neonates delivered at ≥35 weeks' gestation, within IHC's 18-hospital system, during 2 periods of time: March 1, 2001, to December 31, 2002, versus January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2004. A bilirubin screening program, instituted in December 2002, called for a total serum bilirubin (TSB) or transcutaneous bilirubin measurement to be performed on every neonate either at the recognition of clinical jaundice or before discharge regardless of whether jaundice was observed. For nonjaundiced neonates, the nursery staff was encouraged to obtain the screening TSB at the same time they obtained the state-mandated newborn screen for inborn errors of metabolism. Bilirubin values were plotted on an hour-specific nomogram and the corresponding percentile was used to guide evaluation, therapy, and follow-up. This study compared TSB data and readmission data for a 2-year period before versus a 2-year period after implementing the program.

RESULTS. The study involved 101272 neonates: 48789 in period 1 and 52483 in period 2. Before the program, 1 in every 77 neonates born at an IHC hospital had 1 or more serum bilirubin levels >20 mg/dL. After initiating the program, the incidence fell to 1 in 142 and the number of neonates with a level >25 mg/dL fell from 1 in 1522 before to 1 in 4037 after. The rate of hospital readmission with a primary diagnosis of jaundice fell from 0.55% in period 1 to 0.43% in period 2.

CONCLUSIONS. Initiating a program of bilirubin screening in a multihospital health system, coupled with evaluating the results using a percentile-based nomogram, reduced the proportion of neonates with significant hyperbilirubinemia and reduced the rate of hospital readmissions with jaundice.

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