BACKGROUND

Mortality and morbidity for very preterm infants in the United States decreased for years. The current study describes recent changes to assess whether the pace of improvement has changed.

METHODS

Vermont Oxford Network members contributed data on infants born at 24 to 28 weeks’ gestation from 1997 to 2021. We modeled mortality, late-onset sepsis, necrotizing enterocolitis, chronic lung disease, severe intraventricular hemorrhage, severe retinopathy of prematurity, and death or morbidity by year of birth using segmented relative risk regression, reporting risk-adjusted annual percentage changes with 95% confidence intervals overall and by gestational age week.

RESULTS

Analyses of data for 447 396 infants at 888 hospitals identified 3 time point segments for mortality, late onset sepsis, chronic lung disease, severe intraventricular hemorrhage, severe retinopathy of prematurity, and death or morbidity, and 4 for necrotizing enterocolitis. Mortality decreased from 2005 to 2021, but more slowly since 2012. Late-onset sepsis decreased from 1997 to 2021, but more slowly since 2012. Severe retinopathy of prematurity decreased from 2002 to 2021, but more slowly since 2011. Necrotizing enterocolitis, severe intraventricular hemorrhage, and death or morbidity were stable since 2015. Chronic lung disease has increased since 2012. Trends by gestational age generally mirror those for the overall cohort.

CONCLUSIONS

Improvements in mortality and morbidity have slowed, stalled, or reversed in recent years. We propose a 3-part strategy to regain the pace of improvement: research; quality improvement; and follow through, practicing social as well as technical medicine to improve the health and well-being of infants and families.

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