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Association of transcutaneous bilirubin testing in hospital with decreased readmission rate for hyperbilirubinemia.

BACKGROUND: Newborns are being discharged from hospitals within 1-2 days of birth, before hyperbilirubinemia usually becomes clinically evident. We investigated the use of transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB) before discharge to determine whether it affects the use of laboratory bilirubin testing or decreases the number of neonates readmitted for hyperbilirubinemia within 7 days of initial discharge.

METHODS: We retrospectively searched a clinical laboratory and hospital database to determine the number of births, newborn readmission rates for hyperbilirubinemia, length of stay, and the number of bilirubin measurements in the clinical laboratory ordered for all babies in the newborn unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch from August 2002 to March 2003 (before TcB testing) and from May 2003 to December 2003 (after TcB).

RESULTS: Between August 2002 and December 2003, 8974 newborns (both vaginal and cesarean births) were admitted to the newborn nursery. Babies who did not fit the diagnosis-related group criteria of "normal newborn" were removed, leaving 6933 babies who were included in the study. April was considered a transition month and was not included in the study, leaving 6603 newborns to be included. Of these, 446 (6.8%) required phototherapy for treatment of hyperbilirubinemia before initial discharge. For the 8 months before and 8 months after initiation of TcB testing, the number of laboratory bilirubin measurements ordered per newborn did not change, nor did the mean (SD) length of stay for normal newborns [2.15 (1.1) days vs 2.12 (1.1) days; P = 0.53], nor days of treatment with phototherapy before discharge [2.9 (1.3) days vs 2.9 (1.3) days; P = 0.67]. By contrast, the number of readmissions per 1000 newborns per month for clinically significant hyperbilirubinemia decreased significantly (Wilcoxon rank-sums two-sample test, P = 0.044), from 4.5 (2.4) to 1.8 (1.7) after TcB testing was initiated.

CONCLUSION: Access to TcB testing is associated with a reduction in the hospital readmission rate for hyperbilirubinemia within 7 days of the initial discharge.

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