Context: Temperature instability is a serious but potentially preventable morbidity in preterm infants. Admission temperatures below 36°C are associated with increased mortality and late onset sepsis.
Objective: The goal of our quality-improvement effort was to increase preterm infants' admission temperatures to above 36°C by preventing heat loss in the immediate postnatal period.
Design: This quality-improvement initiative used the rapid-cycle Plan-Do-Study-Act approach. Preterm infants born at less than 33 weeks' gestation with very low birth weight less than 1500 g who were born at a Regional Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in San Jose, CA, were enrolled. Our intervention involved standardizing the management of thermoregulation from predelivery through admission to the NICU. Data on admission temperature were collected prospectively.
Main outcome measures: The primary outcome measure was hypothermia, defined as temperature below 36°C on admission to the NICU.
Results: The hypothermia rate was reduced from 44% in early 2006 to 0% by 2009. There was a slight increase to 6% in 2010. Subsequently, with further real-time feedback, we were able to sustain 0% hypothermia through 2011. Our hypothermia rate remained substantially lower than state and national hypothermia benchmarks that have shown moderate improvement over the same period.
Conclusion: We reduced hypothermia in very low-birth-weight infants using a standardized protocol, multidisciplinary team approach, and continuous feedback. Sustaining improvement is a challenge that requires real-time progress evaluation of outcomes and ongoing staff education.