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New Test Predicts Which Premature Babies are Most at Risk

  • Art Chimes

Team of doctors and computer scientists come up with a way to determine which infants face challenges

Stanford University researchers have devised a way of predicting which premature babies are the most at risk. It's called the PhysiScore.

Stanford University researchers have devised a way of predicting which premature babies are the most at risk. It's called the PhysiScore.

Premature babies face a variety of health risks. Some preemies do just fine, but others face major challenges.

Doctors and nurses who care for these infants don't have any easy way of telling which babies face the biggest risks in their first days and weeks of life.

They want to know, so endangered infants can be transferred to specialty hospitals or get other advanced care.

Stanford University researchers have devised a way of predicting which babies face the biggest challenges. The results are presented as a single number they call the PhysiScore.

Suchi Saria is the graduate student who led the research project. She says the PhysiScore is the result of a complex formula that combines just a few simple measures, such as heart and breathing rates, and other information from the baby's first hours after birth.

"And this is data collected routinely in the ICU [intensive care unit]," says Saria. "There are no special measurements being made. And we're just taking the data that's already being measured and basically utilizing it to compute the score."

Software to compute the score could be integrated into bedside electronic monitors, which could display the PhysiScore at a glance. And Saria says a study of premature infants at one California hospital indicates it's a lot more accurate at predicting future problems than existing measures, such as one called the Apgar score.

"The PhysiScore, using data from the first few hours of life, gets a performance of over 90 percent as compared to Apgar. Apgar gets a performance of 70 percent."

The PhysiScore and the test of its accuracy are described in a paper published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

According to co-author Anna Penn, the PhysiScore concept isn't limited to evaluating premature babies.

"We plan to expand the scope of this work to include multiple other patient scenarios: two patients coming out of surgery might have had both uncomplicated surgical courses, but be at very different risk for complications," says Penn. "And it's the same type of thing that could be integrated in multiple settings."

The authors say the PhysiScore is not just for rich countries. Rural hospitals in developing countries, they say, could use monitors that display the PhysiScore as a tool to know when to move babies from a rural clinic to a better-equipped urban hospital.

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