Health Care Utilization During the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Individuals Born Preterm

JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Apr 3;6(4):e2310696. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.10696.


Importance: Limited data exist on pediatric health care utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic among children and young adults born preterm.

Objective: To investigate differences in health care use related to COVID-19 concerns during the pandemic among children and young adults born preterm vs those born at term.

Design, setting, and participants: In this cohort study, questionnaires regarding COVID-19 and health care utilization were completed by 1691 mother-offspring pairs from 42 pediatric cohorts in the National Institutes of Health Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program. Children and young adults (ages 1-18 years) in these analyses were born between 2003 and 2021. Data were recorded by the August 31, 2021, data-lock date and were analyzed between October 2021 and October 2022.

Exposures: Premature birth (<37 weeks' gestation).

Main outcomes and measures: The main outcome was health care utilization related to COVID-19 concerns (hospitalization, in-person clinic or emergency department visit, phone or telehealth evaluations). Individuals born preterm vs term (≥37 weeks' gestation) and differences among preterm subgroups of individuals (<28 weeks', 28-36 weeks' vs ≥37 weeks' gestation) were assessed. Generalized estimating equations assessed population odds for health care used and related symptoms, controlling for maternal age, education, and psychiatric disorder; offspring history of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) or asthma; and timing and age at COVID-19 questionnaire completion.

Results: Data from 1691 children and young adults were analyzed; among 270 individuals born preterm, the mean (SD) age at survey completion was 8.8 (4.4) years, 151 (55.9%) were male, and 193 (71.5%) had a history of BPD or asthma diagnosis. Among 1421 comparison individuals with term birth, the mean (SD) age at survey completion was 8.4 (2.4) years, 749 (52.7%) were male, and 233 (16.4%) had a history of BPD or asthma. Preterm subgroups included 159 individuals (58.5%) born at less than 28 weeks' gestation. In adjusted analyses, individuals born preterm had a significantly higher odds of health care utilization related to COVID-19 concerns (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.70; 95% CI, 1.21-2.38) compared with term-born individuals; similar differences were also seen for the subgroup of individuals born at less than 28 weeks' gestation (aOR, 2.15; 95% CI, 1.40-3.29). Maternal history of a psychiatric disorder was a significant covariate associated with health care utilization for all individuals (aOR, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.17-1.78).

Conclusions and relevance: These findings suggest that during the COVID-19 pandemic, children and young adults born preterm were more likely to have used health care related to COVID-19 concerns compared with their term-born peers, independent of a history of BPD or asthma. Further exploration of factors associated with COVID-19-related health care use may facilitate refinement of care models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asthma* / epidemiology
  • Asthma* / therapy
  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia*
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Young Adult

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