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JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Feb 5;3(2):e1919498. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.19498.

Patient and Hospital Factors Associated With Unexpected Newborn Complications Among Term Neonates in US Hospitals.

Author information

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.



Unexpected complications in term newborns have been recently adopted by the Joint Commission as a marker of obstetric care quality.


To understand the variation and patient and hospital factors associated with severe unexpected complications in term neonates among hospitals in the United States.

Design, Setting, and Participants:

This cross-sectional study collected data from all births in US counties with 1 obstetric hospital using county-identified birth certificate data and American Hospital Association annual survey data from January 1, 2015, through December 31, 2017. All live-born, term, singleton infants weighing at least 2500 g were included. The data analysis was performed from December 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019.


Severe unexpected newborn complication, defined as neonatal death, 5-minute Apgar score of 3 or less, seizure, use of assisted ventilation for at least 6 hours, or transfer to another facility.

Main Outcomes and Measures:

Between-hospital variation and patient and hospital factors associated with unexpected newborn complications.


A total of 1 754 852 births from 576 hospitals were included in the analysis. A wide range of hospital complication rates was found (range, 0.6-89.9 per 1000 births; median, 15.3 per 1000 births [interquartile range, 9.6-22.0 per 1000 births]). Hospitals with high newborn complication rates were more likely to care for younger, white, less educated, and publicly insured women with more medical comorbidities compared with hospitals with low complication rates. In the adjusted models, there was little effect of case mix to explain the observed between-county variation (11.3%; 95% CI, 10.0%-12.6%). Neonatal transfer was the primary factor associated with complication rates, especially among hospitals with the highest rates (66.0% of all complications). The risk for unexpected neonatal complication increased by more than 50% for those neonates born at hospitals without a neonatal intensive care unit compared with those with a neonatal intensive care unit (adjusted odds ratio, 1.55; 95% CI, 1.38-1.75).

Conclusions and Relevance:

In this study, severe unexpected complication rates among term newborns varied widely. When included in the metric numerator, neonatal transfer was the primary factor associated with complications, especially among hospitals with the highest rates. Transfers were more likely to be necessary when infants were born in hospitals with lower levels of neonatal care. Thus, if this metric is to be used in its current form, it would appear that accreditors, regulatory bodies, and payers should consider adjusting for or stratifying by a hospital's level of neonatal care to avoid disincentivizing against appropriate transfers.

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