Objective: To characterize geographic variation in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admission rates across the entire birth cohort and evaluate the relationship between regional bed supply and NICU admission rates.
Study design: This was a population-based, cross-sectional study. 2013 US birth certificate and 2012 American Hospital Association data were used to assign newborns and NICU beds to neonatal intensive care regions. Descriptive statistics of admission rates were calculated across neonatal intensive care regions. Multilevel logistic regression was used to examine the relationship between bed supply and individual odds of admission, with adjustment for maternal and newborn characteristics.
Results: Among 3 304 364 study newborns, the NICU admission rate was 7.2 per 100 births and varied across regions for all birth weight categories. IQRs in admission rates were 84.5-93.2 per 100 births for 500-1499 g, 35.3-46.1 for 1500-2499 g, and 3.5-5.5 for ≥2500 g. Adjusted odds of admission for newborns of very low birth weight were unrelated to regional bed supply; however, newborns ≥2500 g in regions with the highest NICU bed supply were significantly more likely to be admitted to a NICU than those in regions with the lowest (aOR 1.20 [1.03-1.40]).
Conclusions: There is persistent underuse of NICU care for newborns of very low birth weight that is not associated with regional bed supply. Among larger newborns, we find evidence of supply-sensitive care, raising concerns about the potential overuse of expensive and unnecessary care. Rather than improving access to needed care, NICU expansion may instead further deregionalize neonatal care, exacerbating underuse.
Keywords: NICU, supply-sensitive care; neonatal intensive care; regionalization.
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