Study: Hospital costs drop when infants treated better

The changes prompted several positive outcomes, including shorter hospital stays, according to the study.

"This is a groundbreaking study that will fundamentally change the way we manage fever in infants," said Dr. Ed Clark, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine. "This process improves care, reduces costs and will have implications across the United States."

Young infants often experience fevers as a result of colds and other viral infections, according to WebMD. In more serious cases, they can signal a bacterial infection or a more serious condition such as meningitis.

Intermountain's evidence-based care model was created with assistance from pediatric specialists and experts.

One of its key components is a requirement that every infant admitted to the hospital undergo viral diagnostic testing.

Overall, hospital stays went down in length — from 60 to 44 hours on average — and hospital costs dropped by "more than $1,000 per infant admission" after the model was implemented, according to the study.

The study also found that as a result of the new model, infants with serious bacterial infections were more likely to be treated quickly and that those suffering from viral infections were less likely to receive unnecessary medications.

"The results of this study allow us to provide optimal care in the emergency department and at the same time to lower costs," said Dr. Brent Wallace, chief medical officer of Intermountain Healthcare.

"It also provides shorter, more positive hospital stays for the infant and parents."

The six-year study period saw 8,044 infants with fever seen by the Intermountain Healthcare system, which includes 22 nonprofit hospitals, 185 clinics and other health services.

The study — touted as the largest of its kind — is published in the July 1 edition of Pediatrics.

Its lead investigator noted that a consistent care model helped to eliminate some variations in infant care across the wide geographic spread of the Utah-based health system.

“This means that infants with fever across Utah will receive high-quality care anywhere in the Intermountain Healthcare system, whether they are evaluated at a regional medical center by non-pediatric providers or at the regional children’s hospital staffed with pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists,” said Dr. Carrie L. Byington, a University of Utah professor of pediatrics.