WI Hospitals to Post Newborn Data on Website

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)

March 10, 2014

Expectant parents in Wisconsin will soon be able to see if the hospital where their baby will be born promptly sends newborn screening samples to the state lab, where they are tested for rare yet deadly disorders.

Beginning in April, the Wisconsin Hospital Association will post performance metrics for each hospital on Check-Point, its website that lists quality and performance data for state hospitals.

The hospital association announced the decision Friday at a meeting in Madison designed to review quality improvement and assurance measures for Wisconsin's newborn screening program.

Newborn screening has been under review by public health officials since a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation in November found that thousands of hospitals throughout the country send babies' blood samples late to the state labs that perform the lifesaving tests.

The state lab initially refused to release performance data from specific hospitals to the Journal Sentinel. Lab director Charles Brokopp said doing so would be "adversarial" to the hospitals. The data was eventually provided to the Journal Sentinel and showed that dozens of hospitals weren't quickly sending newborn screening samples to the state lab for testing.

The Journal Sentinel began its investigation after learning that a baby nearly died from an easily treatable condition when the New London hospital where he was born delayed sending his blood test to the lab.

About one in every 800 babies is born with a potentially severe or deadly condition that can be treated and managed if the child is properly tested. These babies often appear healthy at birth but can become extremely sick within days.

Nearly every baby in the country has blood collected within 24 to 48 hours of birth for the screening. The baby's heel is pricked, and blood is collected on a card. The card is supposed to be sent within 24 hours to the lab for testing.

A Journal Sentinel analysis of nearly 3 million newborn screening tests found that at least 160, 000 blood samples from newborns arrived late at labs throughout the country last year—a conservative calculation, as the newspaper used five or more days as a standard for lateness; federally backed guidelines recommend blood samples take no more than three days to arrive at labs for testing.

In Wisconsin, an analysis of one year of data showed that 2.9% of samples—or 1, 769—were delayed five or more days. Statewide, 87% of newborn screening samples arrived at the lab within three days of collection. That means about 7, 700 blood samples from hospitals did not arrive within the period recommended by federal advisory groups.

Data published to the hospital association's CheckPoint will gauge how many samples are received at the state lab within four days of collection.

Kelly Court, chief quality officer for the hospital association, said hospitals are pleased to have the data to improve their programs. "The results are going to look really good," she said.

The hospital association has only agreed to publish the data for one year, after which it will decide whether to keep listing it.

In Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services technically oversees newborn screening, but all testing is handled by the state lab, which is part of the University of Wisconsin System.

The Department of Health Services is now overseeing a quality improvement initiative for newborn screening and is working with the state's newborn screening advisory group, which is made up of more than a dozen people, including state health and laboratory officials, medical experts, members of advocacy groups and the state's hospital association.

State lab officials said they are also continuing to review how hospitals get blood samples to the state lab. A state-financed courier service collects blood samples from many hospitals, yet others use United Parcel Service or the U.S. Postal Service, as the courier is unavailable or untimely in some areas.

In January, hospitals began receiving monthly reports of newborn screening metrics, including how long it took for babies' blood samples to arrive at the state lab. This information had never been provided to the hospitals before the Journal Sentinel's report.

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