Economic implications of neonatal intensive care unit collaborative quality improvement

J A Rogowski, J D Horbar, P E Plsek, L S Baker, J Deterding, W H Edwards, J Hocker, A D Kantak, P Lewallen, W Lewis, E Lewit, C J McCarroll, D Mujsce, N R Payne, P Shiono, R F Soll, K Leahy
Pediatrics 2001, 107 (1): 23-9

OBJECTIVE: To make measurable improvements in the quality and cost of neonatal intensive care using a multidisciplinary collaborative quality improvement model.

DESIGN: Interventional study. Data on treatment costs were collected for infants with birth weight 501 to 1500 g for the period of January 1, 1994 to December 31, 1997. Data on resources expended by hospitals to conduct this project were collected in a survey for the period January 1, 1995 to December 31, 1996.

SETTING: Ten self-selected neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) received the intervention. They formed 2 subgroups (6 NICUs working on infection, 4 NICUs working on chronic lung disease). Nine other NICUs served as a contemporaneous comparison group.

PATIENTS: Infants with birth weight 501 to 1500 g born at or admitted within 28 days of birth between 1994 and 1997 to the 6 study NICUs in the infection group (N = 2993) and the 9 comparison NICUs (N = 2203); infants with birth weight 501 to 1000 g at the 4 study NICUs in the chronic lung disease group (N = 663) and the 9 comparison NICUs (N = 1007).

INTERVENTIONS: NICUs formed multidisciplinary teams which worked together to undertake a collaborative quality improvement effort between January 1995 and December 1996. They received instruction in quality improvement, reviewed performance data, identified common improvement goals, and implemented "potentially better practices" developed through analysis of the processes of care, literature review, and site visits.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Treatment cost per infant is the primary economic outcome measure. In addition, the resources spent by hospitals in undertaking the collaborative quality improvement effort were determined.

RESULTS: Between 1994 and 1996, the median treatment cost per infant with birth weight 501 to 1500 g at the 6 project NICUs in the infection group decreased from $57 606 to $46 674 (a statistical decline); at the 4 chronic lung disease hospitals, for infants with birth weights 501 to 1000 g, it decreased from $85 959 to $77 250. Treatment costs at hospitals in the control group rose over the same period. There was heterogeneity in the effects among the NICUs in both project groups. Cost savings were maintained in the year following the intervention. On average, hospitals spent $68 206 in resources to undertake the collaborative quality improvement effort between 1995 and 1996. Two thirds of these costs were incurred in the first year, with the remaining third in the second year. The average savings per hospital in patient care costs for very low birth weight infants in the infection group was $2.3 million in the post-intervention year (1996). There was considerable heterogeneity in the cost savings across hospitals associated with participation in the collaborative quality improvement project.

CONCLUSION: Cost savings may be achieved as a result of collaborative quality improvement efforts and when they occur, they appear to be sustainable, at least in the short run. In high-cost patient populations, such as infants with very low birth weights, cost savings can quickly offset institutional expenditures for quality improvement efforts.

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