Racial/Ethnic Disparity in NICU Quality of Care Delivery

Pediatrics. 2017 Sep;140(3):e20170918. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-0918.


Background: Differences in NICU quality of care provided to very low birth weight (<1500 g) infants may contribute to the persistence of racial and/or ethnic disparity. An examination of such disparities in a population-based sample across multiple dimensions of care and outcomes is lacking.

Methods: Prospective observational analysis of 18 616 very low birth weight infants in 134 California NICUs between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2014. We assessed quality of care via the Baby-MONITOR, a composite indicator consisting of 9 process and outcome measures of quality. For each NICU, we calculated a risk-adjusted composite and individual component quality score for each race and/or ethnicity. We standardized each score to the overall population to compare quality of care between and within NICUs.

Results: We found clinically and statistically significant racial and/or ethnic variation in quality of care between NICUs as well as within NICUs. Composite quality scores ranged by 5.26 standard units (range: -2.30 to 2.96). Adjustment of Baby-MONITOR scores by race and/or ethnicity had only minimal effect on comparative assessments of NICU performance. Among subcomponents of the Baby-MONITOR, non-Hispanic white infants scored higher on measures of process compared with African Americans and Hispanics. Compared with whites, African Americans scored higher on measures of outcome; Hispanics scored lower on 7 of the 9 Baby-MONITOR subcomponents.

Conclusions: Significant racial and/or ethnic variation in quality of care exists between and within NICUs. Providing feedback of disparity scores to NICUs could serve as an important starting point for promoting improvement and reducing disparities.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American
  • California
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology*
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal / standards*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Prospective Studies
  • White People