Objectives: To describe patterns of care for very preterm (VP) babies across neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and associations with outcomes.
Design: Prospective cohort study, EPIPAGE-2.
Setting: France, 2011.
Participants: 53 (NICUs); 2135 VP neonates born at 27 to 31 weeks.
Outcome measures: Clusters of units, defined by the association of practices in five neonatal care domains – respiratory, cardiovascular, nutrition, pain management and neurodevelopmental care. Mortality at 2 years corrected age (CA) or severe/moderate neuro-motor or sensory disabilities and proportion of children with scores below threshold on the neurodevelopmental Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ).
Methods: Hierarchical cluster analysis to identify clusters of units. Comparison of outcomes between clusters, after adjustment for potential cofounders.
Results: Three clusters were identified: Cluster 1 with higher proportions of neonates free of mechanical ventilation at 24 hours of life, receiving early enteral feeding, and neurodevelopmental care practices (26 units; n=1118 babies); Cluster 2 with higher levels of patent ductus arteriosus and pain screening (11 units; n=398 babies); Cluster 3 with higher use of respiratory, cardiovascular and pain treatments (16 units; n=619 babies). No difference was observed between clusters for the baseline maternal and babies’ characteristics. No differences in outcomes were observed between Clusters 1 and 3. Compared with Cluster 1, mortality at 2 years CA or severe/moderate neuro-motor or sensory disabilities was lower in Cluster 2 (adjusted OR 0.46, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.84) but with higher proportion of children with an ASQ below threshold (adjusted OR 1.49, 95% CI 1.07 to 2.08).
Conclusion: In French NICUs, care practices for VP babies were non-randomly associated. Differences between clusters were poorly explained by unit or population differences, but were associated with mortality and development at 2 years. Better understanding these variations may help to improve outcomes for VPT babies, as it is likely that some of these discrepancies are unwarranted.