BACKGROUND:

Blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid cultures and admission for antibiotics are considered standard management of febrile neonates (0–28 days). We examined variation in adherence to these recommendations across US pediatric emergency departments (PEDs) and incidence of serious infections (SIs) in febrile neonates.

METHODS:

Cross-sectional study of neonates with a diagnosis of fever evaluated in 36 PEDs in the 2010 Pediatric Health Information System database. We analyzed performance of recommended management (laboratory testing, antibiotic use, admission to hospital), 48-hour return visits to PED, and diagnoses of SI.

RESULTS:

Of 2253 neonates meeting study criteria, 369 (16.4%) were evaluated and discharged from the PED; 1884 (83.6%) were admitted. Recommended management occurred in 1497 of 2253 (66.4%; 95% confidence interval, 64.5–68.4) febrile neonates. There was more than twofold variation across the 36 PEDs in adherence to recommended management, recommended testing, and recommended treatment of febrile neonates. There was significant variation in testing and treatment between admitted and discharged neonates (P < .001). A total of 269 in 2253 (11.9%) neonates had SI, of whom 223 (82.9%; 95% confidence interval, 77.9–86.9) received recommended management.

CONCLUSIONS:

There was wide variation across US PEDs in adherence to recommended management of febrile neonates. One in 6 febrile neonates was discharged from the PED; discharged patients were less likely to receive testing or antibiotic therapy than admitted patients. A majority of neonates with SI received recommended evaluation and management. High rates of SI in admitted patients but low return rates for missed infections in discharged patients suggest a need for additional studies to understand variation from the current recommendations.

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