Objectives: Very low birth weight (< 1500 g) infants frequently require packed red blood cell transfusions, and transfusion rates vary among neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). We analyzed transfusions and compared outcomes among NICUs.
Study design: In a 6-site prospective study, we abstracted all newborns weighing < 1500 g (total = 825) born between October 1994 and September 1995. Transfusion frequency and volume and phlebotomy number were analyzed by site and adjusted for birth weight and illness severity. We compared rates of intraventricular hemorrhage, necrotizing enterocolitis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, growth, and length of stay between the high and low transfuser NICUs.
Results: Sites differed significantly in mean birth weight, illness severity, number of transfusions, pretransfusion hematocrit, blood draws, and donor number. Multivariate adjustment for these risks showed that the highest transfusing NICU transfused an additional 24 cc/kg per baby during the first 14 days and 47 cc/kg per baby after 15 days, relative to the lowest transfusing NICU. The presence of arterial catheters increased the frequency of blood transfusions. The rates of intraventricular hemorrhage, necrotizing enterocolitis, and bronchopulmonary dysplasia were not higher in the 2 lowest transfusing NICUs, nor were there differences in 28-day weight gain or length of stay.
Conclusions: Major differences in transfusion practices for very low birth weight infants exist among NICUs. Because clinical outcomes were no different in lower transfuser NICUs, it is likely that transfusion and phlebotomy guidelines could result in fewer transfusions, fewer complications, and reduced cost.