Objective: A recent rapid decrease in the duration of neonatal hospital stay in Ontario, Canada, enabled us to study the association between healthy infants' age at neonatal hospital discharge and subsequent readmission rates.
Design: (1) Population-based and (2) single hospital-based retrospective studies.
Setting and study population: (1) A total of 920,554 healthy infants with a birth weight of 2500 gm or more, born in Ontario from 1987 to 1994. (2) Infants with a birth weight of 2500 gm or more, born during the same period, and readmitted before 15 days from home to the Hospital for Sick Children for jaundice or dehydration.
Measurement: Duration of neonatal stay in the hospital and readmission rates were measured, and diagnostic codes were analyzed. Severity of illness was evaluated in infants readmitted to our hospital.
Results: In Ontario the mean length of stay decreased from 4.5 days to 2.7 days (p = 0.000), and the readmission rate during the first 2 weeks of life increased from 12.9 to 20.7 per 1000 (p = 0.000). Increased rates of readmission were most marked for jaundice and dehydration. The infants readmitted to our hospital had evidence of increased severity of illness as indicated by higher serum bilirubin and sodium concentrations. Two deaths occurred in infants with hypernatremic dehydration, one in 1992-1993 and another in 1993-1994.
Conclusions: In Ontario, shorter neonatal hospital stay was associated with increased readmission rates for conditions that may not give rise to symptoms or signs on days 1 to 3 of life. In our hospital the severity of jaundice and dehydration in readmitted infants increased. The severity-of-illness data raise the question of whether shorter neonatal hospital stay of apparently healthy infants is always safe. Decisions to discharge infants should be based on rigorous evaluation of individual infants.