DURHAM, N.C. -- Home visits from a nurse are a proven, but expensive, way to help newborns get a good start in life.
New research from Duke University suggests that less costly home visiting programs can reach more families and still produce significant health care improvements. Infants in the study had 50 percent fewer emergency care episodes than other babies in the first year of life.
"For a relatively small investment, the reward is significant," said lead author Kenneth A. Dodge, the William McDougall Professor of Public Policy and director of Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy.
The study, which appears Nov. 1 in a special issue of Pediatrics devoted to home visiting, looks at Durham Connects, a program that provides home visits for newborns and their parents in Durham, N.C. Authors Dodge and Benjamin Goodman, a Duke research scientist, found that participating families visited the emergency room less often than control group families and had fewer overnight hospital stays. The results held true a year after birth, well after the nurse's contact with the family had ended.
The findings have significant cost implications because the price of hospital emergency room visits and overnight stays often ranges into the thousands of dollars. By contrast, the Durham Connects program costs an average of $700 per family.
The Affordable Care Act includes funding for home visiting programs. In September, the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced $69.7 million in grants to expand home visiting services in 13 states.
But home visiting encompasses a wide array of approaches. Many programs are intensive, multiyear efforts targeted to poor families that can cost $4,000 per family or more. By contrast, Durham Connects costs less because it is relatively brief and makes extensive use of referrals.
The program was developed by Duke University in partnership with the Durham Cou
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