BACKGROUND:

Because greater percentages of women deliver at hospitals without high-level NICUs, there is little information on the effect of delivery hospital on the outcomes of premature infants in the past 2 decades, or how these effects differ across states with different perinatal regionalization systems.

METHODS:

A retrospective population-based cohort study was constructed of all hospital-based deliveries in Pennsylvania and California between 1995 and 2005 and Missouri between 1995 and 2003 with a gestational age between 23 and 37 weeks (N = 1 328 132). The effect of delivery at a high-level NICU on in-hospital death and 5 complications of premature birth was calculated by using an instrumental variables approach to control for measured and unmeasured differences between hospitals.

RESULTS:

Infants who were delivered at a high-level NICU had significantly fewer in-hospital deaths in Pennsylvania (7.8 fewer deaths/1000 deliveries, 95% confidence interval [CI] 4.1–11.5), California (2.7 fewer deaths/1000 deliveries, 95% CI 0.9–4.5), and Missouri (12.6 fewer deaths/1000 deliveries, 95% CI 2.6–22.6). Deliveries at high-level NICUs had similar rates of most complications, with the exception of lower bronchopulmonary dysplasia rates at Missouri high-level NICUs (9.5 fewer cases/1000 deliveries, 95% CI 0.7–18.4) and higher infection rates at high-level NICUs in Pennsylvania and California. The association between delivery hospital, in-hospital mortality, and complications differed across the 3 states.

CONCLUSIONS:

There is benefit to neonatal outcomes when high-risk infants are delivered at high-level NICUs that is larger than previously reported, although the effects differ between states, which may be attributable to different methods of regionalization.

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