Carilion Children's Hospital partners with clinical intelligence company to improve outcomes in NICU—through feeding

Astarte Medical, a clinical intelligence company focused on protocol-driven pediatric care, has partnered with Virginia-based Carilion Children’s Hospital to coordinate care within its neonatal intensive care unit.

The goal is to support preterm babies and infants with acute medical conditions with Astarte’s NICUtrition platform, a data analytics tool offering clinicians real-time nutrition and growth-specific data, and ongoing consultations. 

Named after the goddess of love, fertility and children, Astarte provides digital solutions to support nutrition and feeding practices across NICU and pediatric care settings. Its cloud-based platform integrates with medical records software and sits within the workflow for clinicians. The platform is built on nine years of patient data to provide a longitudinal assessment of feeding protocol effectiveness, patient risk factors and historical care patterns that positively impact patient outcomes. 

The goal of nutrition for preterm babies is to replicate the in utero growth rate. But achieving this is difficult. As a result, preterm babies are frequently significantly underweight at the time of hospital discharge. Their growth rate can be affected by genetics, medical complications—and inadequate nutrition, Astarte executives argue.

Carilion Children’s is the region’s only hospital dedicated to pediatric care, with a Level 1 pediatric trauma center and a 60-bed NICU in Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. With more than 800 admissions annually for 60 beds, Carilion Children’s NICU typically operates at or near capacity. Clinical staff monitor key growth milestones, often by the hour, to determine when babies are healthy enough for feeding or even to be discharged from their stay. 

“NICUtrition analyzes patient feeding practices and outcomes in a streamlined manner that eliminates time-consuming, cumbersome information collection by hand,” said Dena Goldberg, Ph.D., R.D.N., a Carilion Children’s dietitian who prepared spreadsheets and then analyzed the data with the help of Carilion statisticians, in a press release. “We eagerly await learning what the platform reveals about how feedings have changed and impacted infant growth and nutrition.”

Each hospital has its own protocol for how to see babies. “It’s a very labor-intensive, tedious process,” Astarte co-founder and CEO Tracy Warren told Fierce Healthcare. Low-resourced settings, like community or rural hospitals, may not have the resources to do so. “That creates a huge disparity in the care that’s delivered,” Warren said.

Astarte aims to automate this process, running calculations based on a patient’s medical record, age and weight to determine how much and how often to feed a baby. The goal is to reduce variability and track compliance. “Just because you have a guideline doesn’t mean folks necessarily follow it,” Warren said.

According to data from St. Bernard’s Healthcare, adherence to protocol had been at 42%. With the Astarte tool, that rose to 52%. It reduced the length of stay by 20 days on average.

Astarte’s other clients include Gillette Children’s Hospital (Minnesota), UVA Children’s Hospital (Virginia) and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. 

Astarte sells directly to hospitals as software-as-a-service, with pricing built around its promised return on investment (including reduced length of stay and improved clinical outcomes), per Warren. Exact pricing depends on the size of a hospital. In the next 12 to 18 months, Astarte hopes to share outcomes data with payers and create more incentives for value-based contracts.

Warren hopes tools like this can uncover patterns in population health, by sorting data by different patient features like race or zip code. “We can start to help hospitals realize if there is any kind of disparity that they want to address,” Warren said.