To study the referral patterns of obstetric clinics, and the performance of receiving intensive care units measured by the survival of transported neonates, transport records were collected prospectively between July, 1991 and June, 1992. Two hundred and fifty-four transported neonates born in 51 obstetric clinics (level I units) in Tainan City and County, in southern Taiwan, were enrolled in this study. Nineteen percent of the transported neonates were very low birthweight infants (< 1500 g). Nearly equal numbers of them were transported to eight district hospitals (level II units) and to a tertiary center (level III unit), but these infants were 1.5 times more likely to die in a level II unit than a level III unit. In addition, equal numbers of infants assisted by mechanical ventilators were transported to level II and III units, but these infants were three times more likely to die in a level II unit than a level III unit (P = 0.006). Seventy-seven percent of the normal birthweight infants (≤ 2500 g) were transported to level II units, and the mortality in this group was 12.3% compared with 0% in those transported to the level III unit. Approximately 56% of these normal birthweight infants in level II units died of severe birth asphyxia. The referral patterns of level I units had an unfavorable effect on the survival of neonates requiring mechanical ventilation. Enhancing the skills of the staff in level I units to recognize and stabilize such infants, elevating the capability of level II units in treating some of these cases, and increasing the hospital beds for level III care are necessary to increase their chance of survival.
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