Duke study: Home visits to newborns by nurses prevent costly care later

11/12/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:19 AM

Nurses’ visits to newborn babies’ homes pay dividends later, with a reduction in expensive emergency room care, a new Duke University study says.

The study in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Pediatrics examined results from a Durham, N.C., program that provided brief, limited visits by nurses to the homes of babies. The program, called Durham Connects, cost an average of $700 per family, but infants in the study had 50 percent fewer instances of emergency care, which can run into thousands of dollars. The positive results extended a year after birth, long after the nurse visits concluded.

Home visits from nurses have long been considered a reliable way to ensure a healthy start for mother and parents, but such efforts can be costly. The Durham Connects program is a less expensive version, with a few brief visits from nurses who then link patients to other services in the community.

The research shows that for a relatively small investment early in a child’s life, the reward is significant, say authors Kenneth Dodge, director of Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy, and Benjamin Goodman, a Duke research scientist.

The Duke research team started with 4,777 babies born in Durham County between July 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010. Children born on even dates were offered the program. The scientists studied the medical records for a random sample of those families, compared with those who didn’t get the visits.

Nurses visited parents soon after the newborn was home from the hospital, checking on the health of mother and baby. Included in the visits were tips on breastfeeding and child care and screening for postpartum depression.

A version of the program will soon be extended to rural eastern North Carolina, in Beaufort, Bertie, Chowan and Hyde counties. It is funded with money from the federal government’s Race to the Top early learning grant competition.

The nation’s new health care law also includes funding for home visiting program.

The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer

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