PediTools Electronic Growth Chart Calculators: Applications in Clinical Care, Research, and Quality Improvement

J Med Internet Res. 2020 Jan 30;22(1):e16204. doi: 10.2196/16204.


Background: Parameterization of pediatric growth charts allows precise quantitation of growth metrics that would be difficult or impossible with traditional paper charts. However, limited availability of growth chart calculators for use by clinicians and clinical researchers currently restricts broader application.

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the deployment of electronic calculators for growth charts using the lambda-mu-sigma (LMS) parameterization method, with examples of their utilization for patient care delivery, clinical research, and quality improvement projects.

Methods: The publicly accessible PediTools website of clinical calculators was developed to allow LMS-based calculations on anthropometric measurements of individual patients. Similar calculations were applied in a retrospective study of a population of patients from 7 Massachusetts neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) to compare interhospital growth outcomes (change in weight Z-score from birth to discharge [∆Z weight]) and their association with gestational age at birth. At 1 hospital, a bundle of quality improvement interventions targeting improved growth was implemented, and the outcomes were assessed prospectively via monitoring of ∆Z weight pre- and postintervention.

Results: The PediTools website was launched in January 2012, and as of June 2019, it received over 500,000 page views per month, with users from over 21 countries. A retrospective analysis of 7975 patients at 7 Massachusetts NICUs, born between 2006 and 2011, at 23 to 34 completed weeks gestation identified an overall ∆Z weight from birth to discharge of -0.81 (P<.001). However, the degree of ∆Z weight differed significantly by hospital, ranging from -0.56 to -1.05 (P<.001). Also identified was the association between inferior growth outcomes and lower gestational age at birth, as well as that the degree of association between ∆Z weight and gestation at birth also differed by hospital. At 1 hospital, implementing a bundle of interventions targeting growth resulted in a significant and sustained reduction in loss of weight Z-score from birth to discharge.

Conclusions: LMS-based anthropometric measurement calculation tools on a public website have been widely utilized. Application in a retrospective clinical study on a large dataset demonstrated inferior growth at lower gestational age and interhospital variation in growth outcomes. Change in weight Z-score has potential utility as an outcome measure for monitoring clinical quality improvement. We also announce the release of open-source computer code written in R to allow other clinicians and clinical researchers to easily perform similar analyses.

Keywords: failure to thrive; growth charts; infant, newborn; infant, premature; internet; pediatrics; software.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Growth Charts*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Research Design
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Telemedicine / methods*