Effect of surfactant on morbidity, mortality, and resource use in newborn infants weighing 500 to 1500 g

N Engl J Med. 1994 May 26;330(21):1476-80. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199405263302102.


Background: The administration of surfactant decreased mortality, morbidity, and costs of care for very-low-birth-weight infants in clinical trials. The extent to which these benefits can be achieved in the usual clinical settings is not known.

Methods: We analyzed clinical and financial data obtained from 1985 to 1990 at 14 perinatal centers in the United States on 5629 neonates weighing 500 to 1500 g. The infants were divided into groups according to whether they were born before or after surfactant was introduced into clinical practice. Regression models controlling for race, sex, and birth weight were used to assess mortality, morbidity, and use of resources. Mortality rates specific for these variables were projected to the nation as a whole with reference to the 1985 U.S. birth cohort.

Results: The odds of death in the hospital for very-low-birth-weight infants were reduced by 30 percent after surfactant was introduced. Among infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, mortality declined 40 percent. Projections of mortality nationwide declined 5 percent. Eighty percent of the decline in the U.S. infant mortality rate between 1989 and 1990 could be attributed solely to the use of surfactant. Among the survivors, the overall odds of morbidity did not change, whether or not we adjusted for changes in race, sex, and birth weight. The odds of respiratory distress syndrome and pulmonary interstitial emphysema among the survivors declined by 20 percent and 40 percent, respectively, with surfactant. Inflation-adjusted charges per survivor declined by 10 percent, or $5,800, whereas the cost of care for each infant who died declined by 31 percent, or $4,400.

Conclusions: The introduction of surfactant has led to decreased mortality and morbidity in very-low-birth-weight infants and to decreased use of resources both for infants who survive and for those who die.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Resources / economics
  • Health Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / economics
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / epidemiology
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / mortality
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Morbidity
  • Pulmonary Surfactants / therapeutic use*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Pulmonary Surfactants