Context: Inner-city high-risk infants often receive limited and fragmented care, a problem that may increase serious illness.
Objective: To assess whether access to comprehensive care in a follow-up clinic is cost-effective in reducing life-threatening illnesses among high-risk, inner-city infants.
Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Setting and participants: A total of 887 very-low-birth-weight infants born in a Texas county hospital between January 1988 and March 1996 and followed up in a children's hospital clinic. One hundred four infants who became ineligible or died after randomization but before nursery discharge were excluded from the analysis.
Interventions: Infants were randomly assigned to receive routine follow-up care (well-baby care and care for chronic illnesses; n = 441) or comprehensive care (which included the components of routine care plus care for acute illnesses, with 24-hour access to a primary caregiver; n = 446).
Main outcome measures: Life-threatening illnesses (ie, causing death or hospital admission for pediatric intensive care) occurring between nursery discharge and age 1 year, assessed by blinded evaluators from inpatient charts and state Medicaid and vital statistics records; and hospital costs (estimated from department-specific cost-to-charge ratios).
Results: Comprehensive care resulted in a mean of 3.1 more clinic visits and 6.7 more telephone conversations with clinic staff (P<.001 for both). One-year outcomes were unknown for fewer comprehensive-care infants than routine-care infants (9 vs 28; P =.001). Identified deaths were similar (11 in comprehensive care vs 13 in routine care; P =.68). The comprehensive-care group had 48% fewer life-threatening illnesses (33 vs 63; P<.001), 57% fewer intensive care admissions (23 vs 53; P =.003), and 42% fewer intensive care days (254 vs 440; P =.003). Comprehensive care did not increase the mean estimated cost per infant for all care ($6265 with comprehensive care and $9913 with routine care).
Conclusion: Comprehensive follow-up care by experienced caregivers can be highly effective in reducing life-threatening illness without increasing costs among high-risk inner-city infants. JAMA. 2000;284:2070-2076.