A drug given to some pregnant women to prevent severe respiratory ailments in preterm newborns reduces healthcare costs, finds a new study from researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
About 7 percent of babies in the U.S. are born in the late preterm period between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation and are more likely to experience severe respiratory problems than full-term babies.
Based on the results of a clinical trial, published in 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine, most women at risk for preterm delivery are now given a corticosteroid drug -- to speed a baby's lung development -- that reduces the risk of serious respiratory problems in late preterm babies.
Doctors have widely adopted this preventative strategy for mothers at risk of giving birth prematurely, but until now no one really knew if it was cost effective.
In the new study, researchers tallied the healthcare costs of the 1,426 mother-infant pairs in the previous clinical trial who had received at least one injection of the drug betamethasone, and 1,395 pairs from the same study who did not get the drug.
Costs were estimated for the drug, respiratory treatments for the newborns, and maternal care, including office visits and hospitalizations within the first 72 hours of birth.
Pairs who received betamethasone had average costs of $4,681 -- significantly lower than the $5,379 spent on the pairs who did not get the treatment. Previous studies to determine the cost-effectiveness of this strategy had mixed results, though they did not look at the same outcomes as those in the clinical trial.
A 2018 USA Today investigation found that despite mounting evidence that expert recommendations such as tracking blood loss and timely administering of medication for high blood pressure can prevent death among birthing mothers, many hospitals skip the practices altogether.
The investigation said failing to track blood loss during childbirth and not administering blood pressure medication within an hour of dangerously high blood pressure readings can lead to strokes, massive hemorrhaging to the point of organ failure, blood clots, infections and the inability to bear more children.