OBJECTIVES: (1) To identify a resource use inflection point (RU-IP) beyond which patients in the NICU no longer received NICU-level care, (2) to quantify variability between hospitals in patient-days beyond the RU-IP, and (3) to describe risk factors associated with reaching an RU-IP.
METHODS: We evaluated infants admitted to any of the 43 NICUs over 6 years. We determined the day that each patient’s total daily standardized cost was <10% of the mean first-day NICU room cost and remained within this range through discharge (RU-IP). We compared days beyond an RU-IP, the total standardized cost of hospital days beyond the RU-IP, and the percentage of patients by hospital beyond the RU-IP.
RESULTS: Among 80 821 neonates, 80.6% reached an RU-IP. In total, there were 234 478 days after the RU-IP, representing 24.3% of the total NICU days and $483 281 268 in costs. Variability in the proportion of patients reaching an RU-IP was 33.1% to 98.7%. Extremely preterm and very preterm neonates, patients discharged with home health care services, or patients receiving mechanical ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or feeding support exhibited fewer days beyond the RU-IP. Conversely, receiving methadone was associated with increased days beyond the RU-IP.
CONCLUSIONS: Identification of an RU-IP may allow health care systems to identify readiness for discharge from the NICU earlier and thereby save significant NICU days and health care dollars. These data reveal the need to identify best practices in NICUs that consistently discharge infants more efficiently. Once these best practices are known, they can be disseminated to offer guidance in creating quality improvement projects to provide safer and more predictable care across hospitals for patients of all socioeconomic statuses.