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Move over, Apgar score? Researchers design method to determine preemies' health risks

physiscore docs.jpg

A new, non-invasive scoring system to predict poor health in premature babies could dramatically change how doctors treat fragile preemies. The method, announced today by Stanford researchers in the journal Science Translational Medicine, uses electronic monitoring of infants' heart rate, breathing rate and blood oxygen levels to spot babies headed toward medical complications.

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital neonatologist Anna Penn, MD, PhD, co-senior author of the new research, said in a release:

"The national push toward electronic medical records helped us create a tool to detect patterns not readily seen by the naked eye or by conventional monitoring. We’re now able to identify potential health problems before they become clinically obvious."

The new tool, called PhysiScore, mathematically analyzes physiological data collected in the first three hours of life. PhysiScore can detect, for instance, subtle short-term variations in breathing and heart rate that could signal problems later. The team found that PhysiScore strongly outperformed the Apgar score, a simple visual checklist now used at birth, for predicting which preemies would develop serious complications.

In addition to reducing suffering for tiny babies and their families, PhysiScore could lower the expense of caring for preemies - now $26 billion a year in the U.S. - by helping doctors target medical care to the infants who need it most. And:

"The beauty is we don’t have to stick anybody with a needle or do more expensive tests," says Penn. "Now we have the possibility of using the power of data already available in the intensive care unit to greatly improve care for premature infants."

Photo from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

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