Transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB) meters are widely used for screening newborns for jaundice, with a total serum bilirubin (TSB) measurement indicated when the TcB value is classified as “positive” by using a decision rule. The goal of our study was to assess the clinical utility of 3 recommended TcB screening decision rules.
Paired TcB/TSB measurements were collected at 34 newborn nursery sites. At 27 sites (sample 1), newborns were routinely screened with a TcB measurement. For sample 2, sites that typically screen with TSB levels also obtained a TcB measurement for the study. Three decision rules to define a positive TcB measurement were evaluated: ≥75th percentile on the Bhutani nomogram, 70% of the phototherapy level, and within 3 mg/dL of the phototherapy threshold. The primary outcome was a TSB level at/above the phototherapy threshold. The rate of false-negative TcB screens and percentage of blood draws avoided were calculated for each decision rule.
For sample 1, data were analyzed on 911 paired TcB-TSB measurements from a total of 8316 TcB measurements. False-negative rates were <10% with all decision rules; none identified all 31 newborns with a TSB level at/above the phototherapy threshold. The percentage of blood draws avoided ranged from 79.4% to 90.7%. In sample 2, each rule correctly identified all 8 newborns with TSB levels at/above the phototherapy threshold.
Although all of the decision rules can be used effectively to screen newborns for jaundice, each will “miss” some infants with a TSB level at/above the phototherapy threshold.