Background: Echocardiography is an investigation that is being used increasingly on the neonatal unit. There is some controversy as to whether this service can be provided safely and effectively by neonatologists or whether it should only be performed by paediatric cardiologists.
Aims: To describe (a) the indications for an echocardiogram, (b) the yield and range of positive findings, (c) the resulting changes in clinical management, and (d) the reliability of echocardiography in the hands of neonatologists when it is performed on the neonatal unit.
Methods: Information about all echocardiograms performed on the neonatal unit was collected prospectively. Indications for performing echocardiography, echocardiographic findings, and any resulting changes in clinical management were determined. The concordance of findings in infants who underwent echocardiograms performed by both a neonatologist and a paediatric cardiologist was described.
Results: A total of 157 echocardiograms were performed in 82 infants. Echocardiography identified 44 infants with a structural cardiac abnormality and a further 17 infants with a trivial abnormality. In addition, 13 babies were found to have an important functional abnormality. Echocardiography prompted a specific change in clinical management in 64 (78%) babies. In 31 of the 38 infants who had paired scans performed, there was complete concordance between the two examinations. No infants had scans that were completely different. Some discrepancy was identified in seven infants, but this did not prevent appropriate immediate clinical management.
Conclusions: Echocardiography on the neonatal unit has a high yield for the diagnosis of structural and functional cardiac abnormalities, often results in a change in clinical management, and can be a reliable tool in the hands of neonatologists.