(Salt Lake City, UT) – Within the first few days of their lives, the Utah Department of Health’s (UDOH) Newborn Screening Program tests all babies born in the state for 38 different disorders. Newborn screening saves lives, and is critically dependent on timeliness. Today, Governor Gary R. Herbert honored the newborn screening team with the Governor’s Award for Excellence for their efforts in improving timeliness and other operational improvements.
Hospitals collect blood samples from each newborn within a day or two of their birth and deliver the samples to the Utah Public Health Laboratory (UPHL) for testing. The Newborn Screening Program reports results back to the hospital within five days of a baby’s life. Some of the disorders, if not discovered within the first several days of a baby’s life, are fatal.
A 2014 evaluation of the program, lead by Newborn Screening Laboratory Director Dr. Andy Rohrwasser, discovered some samples weren’t being shipped to the lab in a timely enough manner to allow results to be reported back to hospitals within five days.
“The evaluation highlighted areas where we could make significant improvements in sample transport and laboratory efficiency,” Rohrwasser said. “It wasn’t rocket science to see that we could do much better.”
The program entered into a partnership with FedEx and the Utah Hospital Association to ensure all samples, especially from small and rural from hospitals, would be received within three days – and at no cost to the hospital.
“Newborn screening is truly life-saving for babies born with certain disorders,” said UPHL Director Dr. Robyn Atkinson. “It shouldn’t matter where in Utah a baby is born, or at what hospital, all babies should be screened as quickly as possible so they can receive the treatment they need.”
The improvement has already resulted in at least one success story: Within several days of the program’s implementation a baby born in a rural hospital was identified as having a life-threatening metabolic disorder. Through prompt screening, the disorder was treated and the baby is thriving. Without the timely screening, the baby most likely would not have survived.
Data from the program tell a similar story. Prior to the FedEx partnership, nearly 34% of newborn screening samples were being received within 4-7 days of birth. Following implementation of the program, that rate has dropped nearly in half to 19% and the overall average transport time has improved to less than 1.5 days.
In addition to the FedEx partnership, the Newborn Screening Program has also moved to a 7-day operations schedule to further accelerate the screening of newborns. This major task was accomplished through reallocation of resources and without the need for additional funding. The program now receives samples and releases results on Saturdays, and also tests samples on Sundays.
“I applaud the governor for honoring the good work that goes on in state government,” Atkinson said. “This is a great example of how a process improvement project can have a real and lasting impact on Utah residents.” Nationally, the team’s improvement efforts have received attention for its evidence based strategy and implementation approach.
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Charla Haley, Public Information Specialist