The impact of neonatologist performed echocardiography in an Italian neonatal unit

Abstract: BACKGROUND: The main goal of neonatologist performed echocardiography is to timely assess hemodynamic changes in order to properly manage unsteady neonates. Detailed structural heart assessment remains the domain of pediatric cardiologists. Nonetheless, many neonatologists take on an additional role in diagnosis of congenital heart defects, mostly compelled by the lack of in-house pediatric cardiology services. The experience of neonatologist performed echocardiography in an Italian neonatal unit was reported and the risk benefit profile of this practice was discussed. MATERIAL AND METHODS: We retrospectively reviewed the echocardiograms undertaken by the neonatologist on infants admitted to the neonatal unit and postnatal ward of the Hospital San Pio in Benevento, over a 2-year period. Details of scans and concordance between neonatologist and cardiologist were analyzed. RESULTS: A total of 160 echocardiographic studies were done by the neonatologist on 136 infants. The ECG was requested in a minority of infants. The most common reason for performing the echocardiogram was admission to the neonatal care unit. Around half of the echocardiograms were normal. The remaining scans resulted in functional and structural abnormalities, transitional changes, and doubtful findings. Cardiac anomalies were significantly more likely found in cases of echocardiograms performed for fetal indications. Only 28 patients were eventually referred to the cardiology services. The inter-rater agreement was satisfactory. CONCLUSIONS: The hemodynamic assessment of sick infants, as well as triaging and referral of neonates with structural heart diseases are valuable advantages of the echocardiography run by neonatologists. Collaboration with pediatric cardiologists and robust training and accreditation programs are essential to ensure safety and quality service.

*Corresponding Author: 

Dr Anna Casani, Neonatal Intensive Care, Maternal and Child Health Department, AO San Pio, via dell’Angelo 1, Benevento 82100, Italy. Tel.: +39 3341798421; E-mail: