OBJECTIVES. Our goal was to determine if (1) preterm children were referred, identified, and received early-intervention/special education services at rates equivalent to term children after implementation of a universal, periodic Ages & Stages Questionnaire screening and surveillance system, (2) pediatricians sufficiently lowered their screening thresholds with preterm children, and (3) quality-improvement opportunities exist.

PATIENT AND METHODS. Secondary analysis was performed on 64 lower-risk, predominantly late-preterm and 1363 term children who originally presented for their 12- or 24-month well-child visits. Higher-risk premature infants already involved with an early-intervention agency or identified with a delay were excluded. Board-certified pediatricians (n = 18) and nurse practitioners (n = 2), who were blind to the Ages & Stages Questionnaire results, were secondary participants. Differences between preterm and term early-intervention agency referrals were examined by comparing pediatric developmental impression to the Ages & Stages Questionnaire under natural clinic conditions using a combined in-office or mail-back data-collection protocol. Medical chart and county early-intervention or special education agency follow-up outcomes were conducted at 36 to 60 months.

RESULTS. Preterm referral rates were 9.5% (term: 5.6%) with pediatric developmental impression and 26.2% (term: 8.1%) with the Ages & Stages Questionnaire. In follow-up, 37.5% of preterm and 20.8% of term children received referrals, of which 50.0% of preterm and 42.4% of term children were eligible for services, 54.2% of preterm children were identified with a developmental-behavioral disorder, and 29.2% of preterm and 20.8% of term children did not follow-up. For the Ages & Stages Questionnaire, only preterm referrals (55.6%) were subsequently identified with an eligible delay or disorder or both. Preterm children were ∼2 times more likely to be eligible than term children.

CONCLUSIONS. Combined referral, quality-improvement, and outcome data suggest that clinicians should lower their threshold for administering a quality developmental screening instrument when providing surveillance for premature infants. Quality improvement exists with diligent developmental surveillance and a standardized, reliable, but more interpersonal referral process.

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