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MultiCare helps lead the way in detecting heart defects in newborns

Posted on Feb. 7, 2015 ( comments)

A newborn receives a quick and painless pulse oximetry test at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

In 2008, MultiCare began to research the effectiveness of pulse-oximetry screening for detecting congenital heart defects (CHD) in newborns born at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital's Family Birth Center. In 2014, six years and more than 18,000 screenings later, the pulse-oximtery test became standard operating procedure for all of MultiCare's Birth Centers. The work done to study pulse-oximetry screening at MultiCare was chronicled in a piece published by the MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation in the Feb. 2015 issue of the journal PEDIATRICS.

Read more about MultiCare's pulse-oximetry screening program below.

Hidden heart defects in healthy-appearing newborns have been found and fixed, thanks to a quick and painless test that's celebrating its seventh anniversary this week at MultiCare Health System.

Called pulse oximetry, the test detects low levels of oxygen in the blood, which may be indicative of a heart defect.

Tacoma General, in collaboration with the MultiCare Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Center, was one of the first hospitals in the state to offer puls- oximetry screening to all healthy-appearing newborns, starting in 2008.

In 2012, the screening began to be offered for the first time for newborns at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, supported by grant funding from the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Puyallup. Testing also has started in the Family Birth Center at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center.

So far, five critical congenital heart defect cases have been identified through the screening, out of the 24,000 or so newborns screened at MultiCare hospitals since Feb. 14, 2008.

Learn more about CHD at Mended Little Hearts of Puget Sound

“My big passion for this comes from babies who do not have this test, and then show up in our Emergency Department or clinics when they’re very sick with serious heart disease that could have been detected earlier,” said Dr. Matthew Park, a pediatric cardiologist with NorthWest Congenital Heart Care, who practices at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital and Tacoma General Hospital.

Nine out of 1,000 infants are born with congenital heart disease. Of those, 25 percent are critical defects that require lifesaving surgery within the first month of life.

Feb. 7-14 is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week

“Unfortunately, less than half of all infants are diagnosed by routine prenatal ultrasound,” Dr. Park said. “Due to normal cardiac and respiratory physiologic changes that occur during the normal transition infants go through during the first 48 hours of life, many infants with critical defects do not have signs, symptoms or exam findings that alert parents and caregivers to the possibility of a critical heart defects. These infants can become very sick very quickly with a high chance of sudden death.”

MultiCare’s research helps change national policy

The work that has already saved young lives in Tacoma could soon be saving newborns across the United States. 

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics officially endorsed newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease. 

Representatives of MultiCare’s program were one of three U.S. hospital teams selected to travel to Washington, D.C., to make a presentation about the lifesaving potential of universal pulse oximetry newborn screening. Because of research at Tacoma General and other sites, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recommended pulse oximetry for all newborns nationwide.

For this pioneering work in screening newborns for heart defects, MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital’s Family Birth Center and the MultiCare Mary Bridge Pediatric Heart Center received the 2011 Warren Featherstone Reid Award for Excellence in Health Care.

“Our newborns are showing why this test could soon be saving young lives at other hospitals,” said Shelly Mullin, President of the West Pierce Region for MultiCare Health System. “Mothers who give birth at our Family Birth Center find comfort in knowing their babies have been screened for heart defects before they go home from the hospital.”

More information

Editor's note: This article was originally published in Feb. 2014 and was updated Feb. 5, 2015.

Posted in: Cardiac | Kids' Health | News

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