Variations among US hospitals in counseling practices regarding prematurely born infants

J Perinatol. 2013 Jul;33(7):509-13. doi: 10.1038/jp.2012.172. Epub 2013 Jan 24.


Objective: We studied several counselor-independent elements of prenatal counseling regarding prematurely born infants. Elements studied include: indications to offer counseling, clinical settings in which counseling is offered, personnel assigned to counsel, availability of tools to assist counseling and post-counseling documentation requirements.

Method: As the study aimed to explore system-based practices and not counselor-based practices, we surveyed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit medical directors.

Result: Responses were received from 352 hospitals (53%) in 47 states. Analysis was based on responses from the 337 hospitals that routinely counseled women anticipating a premature birth. In 299 (≈ 90%) hospitals, counseling was primarily performed by neonatal professionals. Premature labor was the most common indication to offer counseling; however, in 54 hospitals most counseling was offered before labor and based on maternal risk factors for preterm delivery. In nearly all (99.7%) hospitals information was provided verbally and face-to-face; a third of the hospitals also provided written information. For non-English-speaking Hispanic patients, 208 (62%) of the hospitals had certified hospital-based Spanish interpreters. Five (1%) hospitals provided specialized training to the designated prenatal counselors. The upper gestational age eligible for counseling at all 337 hospitals included 33 weeks; in 134 hospitals, gestational age of <23 weeks was not eligible for counseling.

Conclusion: Antenatal parental counseling for premature delivery is a widely practiced intervention with substantial system-based variability in execution. Interventions and strategies known to improve overall counseling effectiveness are not commonly utilized. We speculate that guidelines and tool-kits supported by Pediatric and Obstetric professional organizations may help improve system-based practices.

MeSH terms

  • Counseling / statistics & numerical data*
  • Documentation
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • United States