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Variable interpretation of ultrasonograms may contribute to variation in the reported incidence of white matter damage between newborn intensive care units in New Zealand
  1. D L Harris1,2,
  2. F H Bloomfield2,3,
  3. R L Teele4,
  4. J E Harding2,3,
  5. on behalf of the Australian and New Zealand Neonatal Network
  1. 1Newborn Intensive Care Unit, Health Waikato, Private Bag 3200, Hamilton, New Zealand
  2. 2Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
  3. 3Newborn Services, National Women’s Health, Private Bag 92189, Auckland
  4. 4Department of Paediatric Radiology, Starship Children’s Health, Private Bag 92024, Auckland
  1. Correspondence to:
    Professor Harding
    Liggins Institute, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand; j.harding{at}


Background: The incidence of cerebral white matter damage reported to the Australian and New Zealand Neonatal Network (ANZNN) varies between neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

Hypothesis: Differences in the capture, storage, and interpretation of the cerebral ultrasound scans could account for some of this variation.

Methods: A total of 255 infants of birth weight <1500 g and gestation <32 weeks born between 1997 and 2002 and drawn equally from each of the six NICUs in New Zealand were randomly selected from the ANZNN database. Half had early cerebral ultrasound scans previously reported to ANZNN as normal, and half had scans reported as abnormal. The original scans were copied, anonymised, and independently read by a panel of three experts using a standardised method of reviewing and reporting.

Results: There was considerable variation between NICUs in methods of image capture, quality, and completeness of the scans. There was only moderate agreement between the reviewers’ reports and the original reports to the ANZNN (κ 0.45–0.51) and between the reviewers (κ 0.54–0.64). The reviewers reported three to six times more white matter damage than had been reported to the ANZNN.

Conclusion: Some of the reported variation in white matter damage between NICUs may be due to differences in capture and interpretation of cerebral ultrasound scans.

  • ANZNN, Australian and New Zealand Neonatal Network
  • GM/IVH, germinal matrix/intraventricular haemorrhage
  • NICU, neonatal intensive care unit
  • PVL, periventricular leucomalacia
  • WMD, white matter damage
  • echoencephalography
  • central nervous system ultrasonography
  • premature
  • interobserver variability
  • periventricular leucomalacia
  • white matter

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  • Published online first 13 September 2005

  • This work was supported by the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust, the Rebecca Roberts scholarship, and the Waikato Sick Babies Trust.

  • Competing interests: none declared