Study: High-volume NICUs perform better

A new study suggests that preemies do better if they're treated in higher-volume, high-tech neonatal intensive care units. The study, which appears today in the New England Journal of Medicine, reviewed records on 48,000 premature and fetal deaths in California from 1991 through 2000, focusing on infants with birth rates of one to three pounds. Upon analyzing the data, researchers found that extremely premature infants survived twice as often when they were treated at a busy Level 3 NICU offering both neonatal care and surgery. It wasn't just the level of sophistication which had an impact, however; even among advanced centers, the NICUs which handled the most babies had the least deaths.

Among Level 3 NICUs--which offer the most intense level of care--facilities that treated more than 100 preemies per year had the lowest death rates at 18 percent, while Level 3 NICUs that treated 50 to 100 infants a year had 20 percent death rates. Meanwhile, in Level 2 NICUs seeing 10 or less extremely premature infants per year, the units saw a 31 percent death rate. Researchers concluded that if hospitals merged NICUs appropriately, the units could avoid 21 percent of the deaths within this population.

To learn more about the study:
- read this Associated Press article

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