UnitedHealthcare and Tennessee Initiative for Perinatal Quality Care Partner to Improve Health of Pregnant Women with Opioid Use Disorder and Opioid-Exposed Newborns

March 07, 2019
  • Multiyear initiative will help advance best practices for hospitals treating newborns exposed to opioids and their mothers with opioid use disorder 

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee announced its support of a multiyear project led by the Tennessee Initiative for Perinatal Quality Care (TIPQC) to improve the care of Opioid-Exposed Newborns (OEN) and their mothers with opioid use disorder.

The announcement was made at TIPQC's annual meeting in Franklin, where a panel of experts behind the initiative spoke about its expected outcomes and impact on the people of Tennessee.  

"The impact of the opioid crisis is intensifying every day, requiring the health care system to respond with compassionate care and data-driven solutions," said Dr. Joel Bradley, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee. "We are grateful for the opportunity to support this project, and for our strong partnership with TIPQC and OptumLabs to collect and share important best practices with care providers."

The project builds on work previously done by TIPQC to create a standardized and simple-to-implement toolkit for care providers to treat opioid-exposed newborns and their mothers with opioid use disorder. The initiative will bring together teams of care providers from participating delivery hospitals across Tennessee, along with OptumLabs, a collaborative research and innovation center, to support TIPQC in collecting and analyzing data so that findings can be reviewed, discussed and put into practice by care providers participating in the program.

The primary focus of the initiative is to offer a supportive environment for obstetric and newborn care providers to share best practices for treating their patients with opioid exposure, collect and identify patterns of care and ultimately implement evidence-based protocols in a variety of clinical settings. In addition, as most opioid-exposed newborns are born at hospitals without a NICU, the partnership aims to provide clear, simple guidelines so birth centers or hospitals without NICUs can provide care instead of transferring newborns to another facility. Doing so leverages family and community support systems in addition to the local health care system to optimize outcomes for opioid-exposed newborns.  

NICU sites participating in the program will review hospital practices including:

  • prenatal consults;
  • breastfeeding guidelines and rooming baby and mother together;
  • screening, scoring and diagnosis of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS);
  • education of parents and staff;
  • discharge planning;
  • treatment protocols; and
  • working with child welfare.

The State of Tennessee experienced a 70.5 percent increase in drug deaths – from 12.9 to 22 per 100,000 people since 2007, according to the United Health Foundation's America's Health Rankings. Last year alone, the Tennessee Department of Health reported 881 cases of NAS in the state, and an unknown number of opioid-exposed newborns who were at risk for NAS. Maternal addiction can lead to Low Birth Weight newborns through either premature labor or through Intrauterine Growth Restriction. Opioid exposure in the womb can have far more serious health effects for babies due to NAS, which can cause a high rate of neurological injury, and death due to the impact of opioid withdrawal.

"As health care providers, we're all looking for ways to improve the care of those we serve," said Dr. Mike Devoe, state project leader for the initiative and Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt neonatologist. "Thanks to support from UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee, we'll be able to advance the integrated care we provide to newborns and their mothers."

"UnitedHealthcare is collaborating with health care providers in our communities, using data and analytics to promote coordinated efforts and take action based on best practices. Together, we can help make the system work better for everyone, so that quality care can be based on the strongest factors for success," said Keith Payet, president and CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Tennessee.

UnitedHealthcare serves 1.2 million people in Tennessee with a network of more than 31,000 physicians and other care providers and nearly 140 hospitals statewide.


Since its inception in 2007, the Tennessee Initiative for Perinatal Quality Care (TIPQC) promotes collaborative statewide inter-institutional projects designed to improve perinatal outcomes for mothers and babies in Tennessee.  TIPQC is funded by a grant awarded from the State of Tennessee through TennCare, with federal additional matching funds through the Department of Health (TDH). The mission of TIPQC is to improve health outcomes for mothers and newborns in Tennessee by engaging key stakeholders in a perinatal quality collaborative that will identify opportunities to optimize birth outcomes and implement data-driven provider- and community-based performance improvement initiatives.

About OptumLabs

OptumLabs is a collaborative research and innovation center, dedicated to improving patient care and patient value through data-driven health care research, leading-edge data science and strong partner collaboration. OptumLabs was founded through a partnership between Optum, a leading health services and innovation company, and Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research and innovation. AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with membership of more than 37 million individuals, is its Founding Consumer Advocate Organization. Today OptumLabs has more than 25 collaborating organizations, representing stakeholders from across the health system.

About UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making the health system work better for everyone by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. In the United States, UnitedHealthcare offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 1.2 million physicians and care professionals, and 6,500 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. The company also provides health benefits and delivers care to people through owned and operated health care facilities in South America. UnitedHealthcare is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified health care company. For more information, visit UnitedHealthcare at follow @UHC on Twitter.