We are the victims of our own success. Over the last decade, the approach to respiratory support of the newborn with respiratory distress has tiled heavily towards non-invasive support with CPAP. In our own units when we look at our year over year rates of ventilation hours they are decreasing and those for CPAP dramatically increasing. Make no mistake about it, this is a good thing. Seeming to overlap this trend is a large increase in demand by learners as we see the numbers of residents, subspecialty trainees, nurse practitioners on the rise. The combined effect is a reduction is the experience trainees can possibly hope to obtain when these rarer and rarer opportunities arise. The result of all of this is that at least by my eyes (although we haven’t documented it) the number of attempts for intubations seems to be much higher than it once was. It is not uncommon to see 3-4 attempts or sometimes more whereas in days gone by 1-2 attempts was the norm. We do our best to deal with these shortages using simulation as an example but nothing quite compares to dealing with the real thing even if it comes close.
The Less Practice You Get The More Adverse Events You Can Expect
This is just the way it is. Perfect practice makes perfect and it has been well documented that intubations can lead to many complications such as desaturation, bradycardia, bleeding, airway edema from multiple attempts and a host of other issues. Hatch and colleagues first described their experience with 162 intubations in which they found adverse events in 107 (39%) with 35% being classified as non-severe and severe events in 8.8%. Not surprisingly one of the factors associated with adverse events was the need for multiple intubation attempts. Based on this initial experience they determined that as a unit they could do better and soon after undertook a series of PDSA Quality Improvement cycles to see if they could reduce these events and that they did. What follows are the lessons learned from their QI project and it is my hope that some or all of these ideas may help others elsewhere who are experiencing similar frustrating rates.
Standardized checklist before intubation – This used a “do-confirm” approach in which the individuals on the team “do” what they need to prepare and then confirm with the group that they are done. An example might be an RRT who states “I have three sizes of ETT ready with a stylet already inserted, surfactant is thawed and the ventilator is set with settings of … if needed etc”. Another critical part of the checklist includes ensuring that everyone knows in advance their roles and who is responsible for what.
Premedication algorithm – Prior to this project the use of premedication was inconsistent, drug selection was highly varied and muscle relaxation was almost non-existent. The team identified from the literature that a standard approach to premedication had been associated with reductions in adverse events in other centres so adopted the same here using fentanyl with atropine if preterm and muscle relaxation optional.
Computerized order set for intubation – interestingly the order set included prompts to nursing to make sure intervention 1 and 2 were done as well.
The results of there before and after comparison were numerous but I have summarized some of the more important findings in the table below.
Period 1 (273 intubations)
Period 2 (236 intubations)
<10 intubations experience
The median number of attempts were no different but the level of experience in the second epoch was less. One would expect with less experienced intubators this would predict higher risk for adverse events. What was seen though was a statistically significant reduction in many important outcomes as listed in the table. I can only speculate what the results might have been if the experience of the intubators was similar in the first and second periods but I suspect the results would have been even more impressive. The results seem even more impressive in fact when you factor in that the checklist was used despite all of the education and order set 73% of the time and muscle relaxation was hardly used at all. I believe though what can be taken out of these results is that taking the time to plan each intubation and having a standard approach so that all staff practice in the same way reaps benefits. If you already do this in your unit then congratulations but if you don’t then perhaps this may be of use to you!
What About Intubation For INSURE?
We are in the process of looking in our own centre at the utility of providing premedication when planning to give surfactant via the INSURE technique. I couldn’t help but notice that this paper also looked at that very issue. Their findings in 17 patients all of whom were provided premedication were that only one could not be extubated right after surfactant. The one who was not extubated however was kept intubated for several hours without any reasoning provided in the records so it may well be that the infant could have been electively kept ventilated when they may have indeed been ready for extubation. The lesson here though is that we likely do not need to exclude such patients from premedication it will reduce the likelihood of complications without prolonging the time receiving positive pressure ventilation.
Whatever your thoughts may be at this time one of the first questions you should ask is what is our local rate of complications? If you don’t know then do an audit and find out. Whatever the result, shouldn’t we all strive to lower that number if we can?
I have probably received more requests for our glucose gel protocol than any other question since I started writing on this blog. Dextrose gel has been used more and more often for treatment of hypoglycemia such that it is now a key strategy in the management of low blood sugar in ours and many other institutions. If you are interested in the past analyses of the supporting trials they can be found in these posts; Glucose gel For Managing Hypoglycemia. Can We Afford Not To Use It? and Dextrose gel for hypoglycemia: Safe in the long run? As you can tell from these posts I am a fan of dextrose gel and eagerly await our own analysis of the impact of using gel on NICU admission rates for one!
But What If You Could Prevent Hypoglycemia Rather Than Treating It?
This is the question that the same group who has conducted the other trials sought to answer in their dose finding study entitled Prophylactic Oral Dextrose Gel for Newborn Babies at Risk of Neonatal Hypoglycaemia: A Randomised Controlled Dose-Finding Trial (the Pre-hPOD Study). I suppose it was only a matter of time that someone asked the question; “What if we prophylactically gave at risk babies dextrose gel? Could we prevent them from becoming hypoglycemic and reduce admissions and improve breastfeeding rates as has been seen with treatment of established hypoglycemia?” That is what they went out and did. The group selected at risk patients such as those born to mothers with any type of diabetes, late preterm infants, SGA and others typically classified as being at risk but who did not require NICU admission at 1 hour of age when treatment was provided. The primary outcome was hypoglcyemia (<2.6 mmol/L) in the first 48 hours. Secondary outcomes included NICU admissions, breastfeeding rates in hospital and after discharge as well as formula intake at various time points.
The study sought really to serve as a pilot whose goal was to determine when compared to placebo whether several different regimens could prevent development of hypoglycemia. The groups were (with the first dose in each case given at 1 hour of age):
Single dose of 40% dextrose gel – 0.5 mL/kg
Single dose of 40% dextrose gel – 1 ml/kg
Four doses of 0.5 mL/kg given every three hours with breastfeeding
A single dose of 1 mL/kg then 3 X 0.5 mL/kg given q3h before each breastfeed.
In total 412 patients were randomized into 8 different groups (4 treatment and 4 placebo).
As The Saying Goes, Less Is More
The only dose of dextrose that reduced the risk of hypoglycemia in the first 48 hours was 0.5 mL/kg which provides 200 mg/kg of dextrose which is the same as a bolus of IV dextrose when giving 2 mL/kg of D10W. Curiously using a higher dose or using multiple doses had no effect on reducing the risk. Based on a difference of 14% between placebo and this group you would need to treat roughly 7 patients with dextrose gel once to prevent one episode of hypoglycemia. Also worth noting is that admission to NICU was no different but if one restricted the reason for admission to hypoglycemia the difference was significant (13% vs 2% risk; p = 0.04). What was not seen here was a difference in rates of breastfeeding and much effect on use of formula.
Why Might These Results Have Occurred?
Insulin levels were not measured in this study but I truly wonder if the reason for hypoglycemia in the other groups may have been transient hyperinsulinemia from essentially receiving either a very large load of glucose (1 mL/kg groups) or effectively 4 boluses of glucose in the first 12 hours of feeding. Rebound hypoglycemia from IV boluses is a known phenomenon as insulin levels surge to deal with the large dextrose load and I can’t help but wonder if that is the reason that all but the single dose regimen had an effect. It is also worth commenting that with so many secondary outcomes in this study the p values needed to reach significance are likely much smaller than 0.05 so I would take the reduction in NICU admissions for hypoglycemia with a grain of salt although at least the trend is encouraging.
I wouldn’t change my practice yet and the authors do acknowledge in the article that a much larger study is now being done using the single dose of 0.5 mL/kg to look at outcomes and until that is published I don’t think a practice change is in order. What this study does reinforce though is that providing multiple doses of dextrose gel may yield diminishing returns. While the goal here was prophylaxis, I can’t help but think about the patients who are symptomatic and receive two or three gels and still wind up with an IV. Could it be the same rebound hypoglycemia at play?
We also have to acknowledge that even if this is an effective preventative strategy, is it in the best interests of the babies to all receive such treatment when at least in 6 babies they wouldn’t have needed any? Could such treatment simply be reserved as has been done for those who develop hypoglycemia? Those who question the safety of the ingredients such as dyes that are found in the product may want some long term safety data before this becomes routine in at risk babies but it won’t surprise me if such strategies become commonplace pending the results of the larger trial on the way.
This is a title that I hope caught your eye. In the nearly twenty years I have been in the field of Pediatrics the topic of parking being a barrier to parental visitation has come up again and again. A few years ago the concern about the cost of parking was so great that I was asked if I could find a pool of donors to purchase parking passes to offset the burden to the family. The theory of course is based on the idea that if parking were free in the NICU parents would visit more. If parents visit more they will be more involved in the care of their baby, more likely to breastfeed and with both of these situations in play the infant should be discharged earlier than other infants whose parents don’t visit. Try as I might it was a tough sell for donors who tend to prefer buying something more tangible that may bear their name or at least something they can look at and say “I bought that”. This is quite tough when it comes to a parking stall and as such I am still looking for that elusive donor. Having said that, is there any basis to believe that free parking is the solution that will deliver us from minimal visitation by some parents?
A Study May Help Answer The Question
Northrup TF et al published an article that was sent my way and to be honest I couldn’t wait to read it. A freeparking trial to increase visitation and improve extremely low birth weight infant outcomes. This is like the holy grail of studies. A study that gets right to the point and attempts to answer the exact question I and others have been asking for some time. The study took place in Houston, Texas and was set up as an RCT in which families were randomized into two groups. Inclusion criteria were birth weight ⩽1000 g, age 7 to 14 days and deemed likely to survive. Seventy two patients were enrolled in the free parking group while 66 were placed in the usual care. Interestingly the power calculation determined that they would need 140 to show a difference so while 138 is close it wasn’t enough to truly show a difference but let’s see what they found.
Free parking made absolutely no difference for the whole group. Specifically there was no difference in the primary outcome of length of stay or hours spent per visit. Some interesting information though that may not be that surprising was found to be of importance in the table below.
It may not seem like a surprise but the patients who were more affluent and those who had less children tended to visit more. The latter makes a lot of sense as what are many people to do when they have one or more other children to care for at home especially in the face of little support? Would free parking make one iota of difference if the barrier has nothing to do with the out of pocket cost?
The conclusion was that the strategy didn’t work that well but as you may have picked up I think the study was flawed. By applying the strategy to all they were perhaps affected by choosing the wrong inclusion criteria. Taken to an extreme, would a 50 million dollar Powerball winner care one bit about parking vouchers? It wouldn’t make any difference to whether they were going to come or not. Similarly a single mother with 5 other kids who lives below the poverty line and has little support is not going to come more frequently whether they have a voucher or not.
What if the study were redone?
I see a need to redo this study again but with different parameters. What if you randomized people with a car or access to one who lived below a certain income level and had a committed support person who could assure that team that they could care for any other children the family had when called upon? Or one could look at families with no other children and see if offering free parking led to more frequent visitation and then from there higher rates of Kangaroo Care and breastfeeding. I for one haven’t given up on the idea and while I was truly excited to be sent this article and sadly initially dismayed on first read, I am hopeful that this story has not seen it’s end.
It is intuitive to me that for some parents parking is a barrier to visiting. Finding the right population to prove this though is the key to providing the evidence to arm our teams with evidence to gain support from hospital administrations. Without it we truly face an uphill battle to get this type of support for families. Stay tuned…
The other day I met with some colleagues from Obstetrics and other members from Neonatology to look at a new way of configuring our delivery suites. The question on the table was which deliveries which were always the domain of the high risk labour floor could be safely done in a lower acuity area. From a delivery standpoint they would have all the tools they need but issues might arise from a resuscitation point of view if more advanced resuscitation was needed. Would you have enough space for a full team, would all the equipment you need be available and overall what is in the best interests of the baby and family?
We looked at a longstanding list of conditions both antenatal and intrapartum and one by one tried to decide whether all of these were high risk or if some were more moderate. Could one predict based on a condition how much resuscitation they might need? As we worked our way through the list there was much discussion but in the end we were left with expert opinion as there was really no data to go by. For example, when the topic of IUGR infants came up we pooled our collective experience and all agreed that most of the time these babies seem to go quite well. After a few shoulder shrugs we were left feeling good about our decision to allow them to deliver in the new area. Now several days later I have some concern that our thinking was a little too simple. You see, conditions such as IUGR may present as the only risk factor for an adverse outcome but what if they also present with meconium or the need for a instrument assisted delivery. We would presume the risk for advanced resuscitation (meaning intubation or chest compressions and/or medication need) would be increased but is there a better way of predicting the extent of this risk?
Indeed there might just be
An interesting approach to answer this question has been taken by an Argentinian group in their paper Risk factors for advanced resuscitation in term and near-term infants: a case–control study. They chose to use a prospective case control study matching one case to 4 control infants who did not require resuscitation. The inclusion criteria were fairly straightforward. All babies had to be 34 weeks gestational age or greater and free of congenital malformations. By performing the study in 16 centres they were able to amass 61953 deliveries and for each case they found (N=196) they found 784 deliveries that were matched by day of birth. The idea here was that by matching consecutive patients who did not require resuscitation you were standardizing the teams that were present at delivery.
The antepartum and intrapartum risk factors that were then examined to determine strengths of association with need for resuscitation were obtained from the list of risks as per the NRP recommendations.
A Tool For All of Us?
What came out of their study was a simple yet effective tool that can help to predict the likelihood of a baby needing resuscitation when all factors are taken into account. By resuscitation the authors defined this as intubation, chest compressions or medications. This is pretty advanced resuscitation! In essence this is a tool that could help us answer the questions above with far better estimation than a shoulder shrug and an “I think so” response. The table can be found by clicking on this link to download but the table looks like this.
By inserting checks into the applicable boxes you get a calculated expected need for resuscitation. Let’s look at the example that I outlined at the start of the discussion which was an IUGR infant. It turns out that IUGR itself increases the background risk for infants 34 weeks and above from 6% to 55% with that one factor alone. Add in the presence of fetal bradycardia that is so often seen with each contraction in these babies and the risk increases to 97%! Based on these numbers I would be hesitant to say that most of these kids should do well. The majority in fact would seem to need some help to transition into this world.
Some words of caution
The definition here of resuscitation was intubation, chest compressions or medications. I would like to presume that the practioners in these centres were using NRP so with respect to chest compressions and medication use I would think this should be comparable to a centre such as ours. What I don’t know for sure is how quickly these centres move to intubate. NRP has always been fairly clear that infants may be intubated at several time points during a resuscitation although recent changes to NRP have put more emphasis on the use of CPAP to establish FRC and avoid intubation. Having said that this study took place from 2011 – 2013 so earlier than the push for CPAP began. I have to wonder what the effect of having an earlier approach to intubating might have had on these results. I can only speculate but perhaps it is irrelevant to some degree as even if in many cases these babies did not need intubation now they still would have likely needed CPAP. The need for any respiratory support adds a respiratory therapist into the mix which in a crowded space with the additional equipment needed makes a small room even smaller. Therefore while I may question the threshold to intubate I suspect these results are fairly applicable in at least picking out the likelihood of needing a Neonatal team in attendance.
Moreover I think we might have a quick tool on our hands for our Obstetrical colleagues to triage which deliveries they should really have us at. A tool that estimates the risk may be better than a shoulder shrug even if it overestimates when the goal is to ensure safety.
While we draw the line at 22 5/7 weeks for offering active resuscitation where I work, what does one do when the family requests resuscitation prior to that point. While I am a clear fan of social media, one consequence of having such widely available information at our fingertips is that families may already know before you come to speak with them that were they only to have been born in another place like Montreal, the cutoff would have been lower. When faced with such demands what does one do? Well, in the case of my own experience it was to give in to the demands of the parents. While I certainly discourage such heroic attempts, what is one to say when the family having received your opinion states “I want everything done”. Informed consent is a tricky one in that if you approach a family for informed consent and they refuse to accept your desired direction of care where does that leave you? It leaves you with informed refusal and if we are being fair to our families we have to accept that informed refusal is just as important as informed consent.
The truth is informed refusal has been recognized as being critically important to decisions in patient care for many years. Previous papers on the subject include a nice review by Ridley DT, Informed consent, informed refusal, informed choice–what is it that makes a patient’s medical treatment decisions informed? What this really comes down to is a patient’s right to personal autonomy and self determination. Does a parent in this case have the right to do what they want even in the face of dismal odds? Furthermore where are we placing the importance of values? Is it physician or patient centric? In the physician centric world, after we impart our experience and wisdom we expect the patient to generally follow through with what we are steering them towards in cases such as this. Informed consent of course is meant to be free of coercion but let’s face it, when we truly believe something is fairly futile are we honestly playing an impartial role or using our tone, body language and choice of words to direct families down the path that fits with our own beliefs and values? I would offer that in most cases when we seek informed consent what we are really doing is seeking to pass along the justification for what we are wanting to do and then moving forward once obtained.
What do we do though when after hearing the pros and cons the family still opts to move forward and worse yet is in disagreement with our preferred plan. Well there you arrive at informed refusal. If after hearing our best transfer of information the family still wants to proceed what does one do? As a physician if I believe something is completely futile and I find myself in this position then I am truly at fault. Seeking informed consent in this situation was completely inappropriate. One should have simply said there is nothing that can be done.
The Montreal Example
Getting back to the example that started this piece, if a family knows that there are places in Canada (or let’s be honest, if I know there are survivors in Canada at 22 weeks) that resuscitate and have survivors then it isn’t really futile is it. I know many of you would say “but the odds are so stacked against the baby” and “they don’t know what they are getting themselves into” but what does one say in this circumstance when despite your best attempts the family still wants to resuscitate?
Therein lies the challenge. If we approach this as an opportunity for informed consent we need to accept that we may find ourselves face to face with “informed refusal”. Now I need to be careful here. I am not advocating a wide open optimistic approach to resuscitation at 22 weeks. What I am suggesting though is that if you find yourself coming into a unit somewhere in the next few months and find yourselves looking at a 22 week infant don’t jump to conclusions! Did the family despite all the warnings want this? Don’t leap to the thought that the Neonatologist is pushing for this but rather it may indeed be a case of a family advocating for their child against all odds. It may not be something that we agree with in many cases but are we thinking from the perspective of the family or our own value system?