Study Finds Improvement Of NICU Follow-Up Attendance Rates Through Telehealth

A study conducted by Maine Health, published in Hospital Pediatrics, looked into the effects of telehealth on neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) follow-up appointments, and found that telemedicine consultations resulted in a higher rate of attendance in NICU follow-up clinics for infant patients. 

A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that preterm birth rates had increased from 10.1 percent to 10.5 percent between 2020 and 2021. To address this issue, researchers conducted a study to determine the effects of a telehealth visit prior to NICU discharge. The goal was to improve the follow-up attendance rates and help clinicians spot any neurodevelopmental abnormalities, thereby minimizing the risks of lower cognitive, motor, and academic performance.

For this study, researchers included infants who had survived a premature birth (29 weeks gestation or less) as well as those who had suffered from a brain injury, including intracranial hemorrhage, stroke, seizure, or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. Researchers compared follow-ups between two cohorts of NICU patients: the early cohort (January 2018-June 2019) who did not have access to telehealth before discharge, and the late cohort (May 2020-May 2021) who had access to telehealth before discharge. They also conducted a mediation analysis to evaluate the impact of other programmatic changes, such as enhanced documentation to parents and primary care providers, on the late cohort’s NICU follow-up.

After analyzing the data, researchers discovered that the rate of successful 12-month follow-ups had increased significantly from 26% in the early cohort to 61% in the late cohort. Moreover, babies in the late cohort were 3.7 times more likely to attend a 12-month follow-up visit. Improved communication to parents, but not to primary care providers, was found to have had a positive effect on the likelihood of a successful follow-up. According to study author Alexa K. Craig, MD, a neonatal and pediatric neurology physician at MaineHealth and assistant professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine, “telemedicine consultation before NICU discharge, in addition to improving communication regarding the timing and importance of NICU follow-up, was effective at improving the rate of attendance to NICU follow-up clinic.