The incidence and associated costs of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) have recently risen sharply; newborns with NAS occupy 4% of NICU beds. We implemented a coordinated program for NAS including standardized protocols for scoring, medications and weaning, and a calm rooming-in environment, to improve family-centered care and to decrease both length of stay (LOS) and hospital costs.
In early 2013, a multidisciplinary quality improvement team began consecutive plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycles. We trained nurses in modified Finnegan scoring, ensured scoring only after on-demand feeds during skin-to-skin care, and standardized physician score interpretation. We provided prenatal family education, increased family involvement in symptom monitoring and nonpharmacologic treatment, and treated otherwise healthy infants on the inpatient pediatric unit instead of in the NICU. We measured outcomes using statistical process control methods.
At baseline, 46% of inborn infants at-risk for NAS were treated with morphine; by 2015, this decreased to 27%. Adjunctive use of phenobarbital decreased from 13% to 2% in the same period. Average LOS for morphine-treated newborns decreased from 16.9 to 12.3 days, average hospital costs per treated infant decreased from $19 737 to $8755, and costs per at-risk infant dropped from $11 000 to $5300. Cumulative morphine dose decreased from 13.7 to 6.6 mg per treated newborn. There were no adverse events, and 30-day readmission rates remained stable.
A coordinated, standardized NAS program safely reduced pharmacologic therapy, LOS, and hospital costs. Rooming-in with family and decreased use of NICU beds were central to achieved outcomes.