A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine has found that an infant’s race influences the quality of care he or she receives in California’s neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).
The study, published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, analyzed the quality of care received by 18,616 infants who were born between 2010 and 2014 in 134 neonatal intensive care units across the state.
Researchers found that Asian-American and White infants received the highest quality of care, while African-American infants trailed with slightly lower scores.
Meanwhile, Hispanic infants and those classified as “others,” including American Indian and Alaskan Native infants, had much lower scores.
“Significant racial and/or ethnic differences in quality between and within NICUs are a troubling finding,” said the study, which utilized a composite index called Baby-Monitor in analyzing the data.
The index is composed of nine yes-or-no questions reflecting quality of care, some of which include the administration of specific treatments to the infants or mothers before or during their admission, as well as the development of harmful conditions following discharge.
It is important to note, however, that while Asian-American and White infants scored higher than their African-American and Hispanic peers in most measures, there were some in which the latter groups fared better.
Dr. Jochen Profit, the study’s senior author, said (via the San Francisco Gate):
“On a population basis there are general trends — the higher proportion of African American or Hispanic infants in an NICU, the lower the overall quality scores tend to be. But even there, there’s a lot of variation where some hospitals we think of as serving a really vulnerable population actually are among the better performers in the state.”
No hospital was named in the study, but the number of all neonatal intensive care units surveyed were 90% of California’s total. With such disparities, it urges NICUs to individualize care to the patient population at hand.
“Unconscious social biases that we all have can make their way into the NICU. We would like to encourage NICU caregivers to think about how these disparities play out in their own units and how they can be reduced,” Profit said.
“For many of these infants, their time in the NICU sets them on track for their entire life,” Profit said. “If we can get things right early on, that could have a huge long-term effect.”