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?
Campaign Closed October 13,2016! Thank you everyone for the $9359.00 raised!
Each day the number of people following these sites grows and at the time of this post, the largest following on Facebook has over 8200 people who receive the feed on a daily basis. That is nothing short of remarkable and I hope that each of you gets something out of my writings and postings. I recognise that each post may not “light it up” in your mind but if you get at least a few “a ha” moments along the way then I am very happy that you have found these sites!
What This Is Not!
As I begin hinting at money, many of you may be thinking “here we go”, he is finally asking for some payment for this site! To be clear I have no interest in personal financial gain from this hobby I have developed, but rather find my joy in sharing ideas, getting your feedback and helping to generate interest overall in topics pertaining to Neonatology. I have no intention of ever asking for such payment but that doesn’t mean that I might not want to help someone else. For those of you who make philanthropy a part of your lives you will know the joy that comes from helping others. Being able to help others need not take tremendous dollars per donor when you have many people banding together to help a cause. This is the power that I am hoping to harness through this initiative and make a difference in care to our babies in hospital.
For the past year and a half, I have put my fingers to the keyboard to hopefully share my knowledge and expertise with you about an industry I am so passionate about.
My Philanthropic Side
When I am not busy finding content for the sites or being a Neonatologist, I am quite dedicated to philanthropy. One thing people may not realise about our province/country is that the government helps out the best they can financially but with the heavy demands of our province, they can’t meet all the needs. That’s why I’m proud of my partnership with the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba. The Foundation’s donors have helped bridge the gap so our hospital doesn’t go without the specialised items they need. From ultrasounds, starting a breast milk depot, specialised pediatric equipment and funding a position to support Quality Improvement in our unit to a soon to be announced Family Support coordinator position and so much more. But now, I turn to you to help us make the next difference in our unit.
The other day as the Facebook page hit 8,000 followers a thought struck me. What if I asked everyone on the page to just give $1 towards the purchase of a piece of equipment for babies in our units?
Hold Their Hand
In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), they are watched closely to make sure they are getting the right balance of fluids and nutrition. Incubators or special warmers help babies maintain their body temperature. This reduces the energy the babies have to use to stay warm and allow them to use that energy elsewhere.
Premature babies need to receive good nutrition so they grow at a rate close to that of babies still inside the womb. Babies born under 38 weeks have different nutritional needs than babies born at full term (after 38 weeks). They often have problems feeding from a bottle or a breast. This is because they are not yet mature enough to coordinate sucking, breathing, and swallowing.
Many NICUs will give donor milk from a milk bank to high-risk babies who cannot get enough milk from their own mother. But because the baby must be kept at a certain temperature to stay warm, so does their milk.
Thanks to the generous support of donors to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, 12 milk warmers have been purchased. However, we need 24 more warmers to keep up with demand. Each one costs $2,000 and will make a huge impact. An impact to help our babies get the nutrition they need at the temperature they require to survive and thrive.
So let’s hold their hand and let’s do it together! Has this journey of learning been worth at least $1 to you? If it has, then please help make a difference by giving at least $1. Giving more will only increase the power of this campaign! If you aren’t able to donate $1 or more, I ask that you share this post and challenge your friends to help make a difference to the over 1,000 patients we see a year. Click the link below to donate and make your difference today.
A question that we are asked from time to time is whether a home apnea monitor should be purchased after discharge from the hospital. The typical parent is one who has experienced the ups and downs of apnea of prematurity and is faced with the disturbing notion of coming off monitors and going home. “What if he has an event at home and I don’t know”? This leads to a search on the web for home monitors which finds numerous options to choose from. This is where things get interesting from a North American perspective.
In the two centres I have worked at in Canada our answer to such a question is to save your money and not buy one. Contrast this with two families I know in the US who were sent home by the hospital with home apnea monitors. How can the advice between the two nations be so different? I suspect the great risk of a lawsuit in the US is responsible at least in part but it may have to do with risk tolerance as well.
What does the evidence say?
First off, one might surmise that the use of a home apnea monitor helps hospitals move patients to the home faster than those centres that don’t prescribe them. A 2001 Cochrane systematic review on the subject noted that this was not the case and determined that out of nearly 15000 neonates studied the greatest predictor of sending such babies home on monitors was physician preference.
In the largest home monitoring study of its kind, the Collaborative Home Infant Monitoring Evaluation (CHIME) demonstrated some very important information. First off, ex-preterm infants have events and some of them quite significant after discharge. What the study which followed discharged infants at risk of SIDS in the home environment found though was that term infants also have events although less severe. Does this mean that everyone should run out and buy such monitoring equipment though? No! The main reason was that while the study did show that events may continue after discharge, it failed to show that these events had any relation to SIDS. The apneic events noted in hospital disappeared long before the arrival of a risk for SIDS. They really are separate entities.
The other issue with such monitors pertains to false alarms which can lead to sleepless nights, anxiety in parents and eventual abandonment of such technology. This led the AAP in 2005 to declare that they did not endorse such practice. Having said that, it is clear from my own experience with two US ex-preterm infants that this practice remains alive and well.
This monitor has me a little excited as it brings the home apnea monitor into the modern era with smart phone connectivity and at the same time helps the developers of this technology use data collected every two seconds to get a clearer picture on breathing patterns in infants that have been sent home. The saturation monitor in a sock is at the core of this technology which is meant to keep the probe in a relatively stable location. It brings another angle to the concept of wearable tech! What I find most interesting is the claim by the manufacturer that the device has a false alarm rate similar to that of a hospital saturation probe which would make it quite reliable.
I note though that the product has not received FDA approval yet (at least on the source I looked at) but is being worked on. The challenge though is whether this will truly make a difference. It may well have an excellent detection rate and it may in fact detect true apnea leading to bradycardia and cyanosis. What it won’t do though is change the natural history of these events once home. It may capture them very well but I suspect the four events that the mother in the video describes may have been self resolving if she hadn’t intervened. We know from the CHIME study that the events seen in the home did not lead to death from SIDS so I see no reason why these would be different.
Is it useless?
I suppose that depends on your perspective. From a data collection point, obtaining data every two seconds in a cloud based storage environment will allow this company to describe the natural history of respiratory patterns in ex-preterm infants better than I suspect has ever been done before. From a population standpoint I suppose that is something! At an individual level I suppose it depends on your strength of “needing to know”. This may well be the best monitor out there and it may one day be the most reliable. Will it save your baby’s life? I doubt it but might it give you piece of mind if it false alarms very infrequently? I think it just might but based on the low likelihood of it changing the outcome of your baby you won’t see me recommending it. If I come across one make no mistake about it, I will want to play with it myself!
Now that I have caught your attention it is only fair that I explain what I mean by such an absurd title. If you work with preterm infants, you have dealt with apnea of prematurity. If you have, then you also have had to manage such infants who seemingly are resistant to everything other than being ventilated. We have all seen them. Due to increasing events someone gives a load of methylxanthine and then starts maintenance. After a couple days a miniload is given and the dose increased with the cycle repeating itself until nCPAP or some other non-invasive modality is started. Finally, after admitting defeat due to persistent episodes of apnea and/or bradycardia, the patient is intubated. This, in the absence of some other cause for apnea such as sepsis or seizures is the methylxanthine resistant preterm infant. Seemingly no amount of treatment will amount to a reduction in events and then there is only so much that CPAP can do to help.
Other strategies have been attempted to deal with such infants but sadly none have really stood the test of time. Breathing carbon dioxide might make sense as we humans tend to breathe quickly to excrete rising CO2 but in neonates while such a response occurs it does not last and is inferior to methylxanthine therapy. Doxapram was used in the past and continues to be used in Europe but concerns over impacts on neurodevelopment have been a barrier in North America for some time. Stimulating infants through a variety of methods has been tried but the downside to using for example a vibrating mattress is that sleep could be interfered with and there are no doubt impacts to the preterm infant of having weeks of disturbed sleep states on developmental outcomes.
The stimulation is likened to that felt when a cell phone vibrates as this was the size of device used to generate the sensation. The authors note that during the periods of stimulation the nurses noted no signs of any infant waking or seeming to be disturbed by the sensation. The results were quite interesting especially when noting that 80% of the infants were on caffeine during the time of the study so these were mostly babies already receiving some degree of stimulation
Should we run out and buy these?
The stimulation does appear to work but with any small study we need to be careful in saying with confidence that this would work in a much larger sample. Could there have been some other factor affecting the results? Absolutely but the results nonetheless do raise an eyebrow. One thing missing from the study that I hope would be done in a larger sample next time is an EEG. The authors are speculating that by placing the vibration over the hand and foot the brain is perceiving the signal as limb movement but it would have been nice to see the motor areas of the brain “lighting up” during such stimulation. As we don’t have that I am left wondering if the vibration was simply a form of mild noxious stimulus that led to these results. Of course in the end maybe it doesn’t matter if the results show improvement but an EEG could also inform us about the quality of sleep rather than relying on nursing report of how they thought the baby tolerated the stimulus. I know our nursing colleagues are phenomenal but can they really discern between quiet and active sleep cycles? Maybe some but I would guess most not. There will also be the naysayers out there that will question safety. While we may not perceive a gentle vibration as being harmful, with such a small number of patients can we say that with certainty? I am on the side of believing it is probably insignificant but then again I tend to see the world through rose coloured glasses.
Regardless of the filter through which you view this world of ours I have to say I am quite excited to see where this goes. Now we just have to figure out how to manage the “real estate” of our infant’s skin as we keep adding more and more probes that need a hand or a foot for placement!
As I said in another post on this topic I have been a huge advocate of RSV prophylaxis since my days as a Pediatric resident. When I started my residency we were not using Palivizumab (Synagis) and I recall admitting 10+ patients per day at times with bronchiolitis. With the use of passive immunization this rate dropped dramatically in Manitoba although rates in other areas of the country may have not seen such significant impacts. Manitoba may be somewhat different from many areas due to the communities in Nunavut being so impacted when RSV enters these areas and can infect many of the children due to crowded living conditions and inability to really isolate kids from one and other. The lack of benefit in other areas though, has no doubt led to controversy among practitioners who often wonder if giving 5 IM injections during the RSV season is indeed worth it. The real question has not necessarily been does it work but to whom should it be given so that you get the most benefit.
In preterm infants without CLD born before 30 + 0 weeks’ GA who are <6 months of age at the start of RSV season, it is reasonable (but not essential) to offer palivizumab. Infants born after 30 + 0 weeks’ GA have RSV admission rates that are consistently ≤7% (Figure 3), yielding a minimum number needed to treat of 18 (90 doses of palivizumab to prevent one RSV admission) if one assumes 80% efficacy and five doses per infant. Therefore, palivizumab should not be prescribed for this group.
Gone are recommendations for treating those from 30 – 32 weeks and moreover 33- 35 weeks if meeting certain conditions. There is a provision for those in Northern communities to expand these criteria to 36 0/7 weeks if such infants would require medical transport to receive care for bronchiolitis. What is not really clear though is what is meant by Northern communities in terms of criteria to determine suitability exactly.
“The burden of RSV disease and costs associated with transport from remote locations may result in a broader use of palivizumab for RSV prevention in Alaska Native populations and possibly in selected other American Indian populations.”
The American guideline also states that it is for those infants who are “well” and under 29 weeks that RSV prophylaxis is appropriate but from 29 – 32 weeks use should be restricted to those babies who are on oxygen at 28 days of life.
The authors of this study found that while during the RSV season admission for RSV bronchiolitis was lower from 29 – 32 weeks in those infants who had received Synagis. This would argue that it should be given in this group except for the fact that as the authors state it was a “wash” since hospitalization for non-RSV bronchiolitis in the same population was increased by a similar amount. In essence if you didn’t get RSV you wound up getting something else that still put you in hospital. The conclusion here is that the decision to drop the criterion for prophylaxis to under 29 weeks is supported since from 29 – 32 weeks you can’t prevent hospitalization from viruses that take the place of RSV.
A Few Thoughts Though Before We Conclude It Has No Place
As I stated upfront I am not totally free of bias having seen a very large impact up here in Manitoba. What I worry about though is that we have in medicine a tendency to try and capture the “gist” of a guideline rather than committing it in its entirety to memory. We can’t help ourselves as the volume of information we are asked to remember is growing daily. What this may lead to however is changes to our practice that may expose vulnerable infants. The AAP guideline was designed to recommend changes for the otherwise healthy infant under 29 weeks. What I think we are really talking about are the truly exceptional babies. In our institution babies born at less than 29 weeks and certainly those closer to 24 weeks often spend as much as a month on CPAP. At 28 days even if the patient were on room air it might only be due to the fact that they were on distending pressure. Put them on nasal prongs and they would qualify.
Another important consideration is the remote location point. Here in Canada the majority of the population lives along the border with the US. Take a look though at our population density and you can see that for our Aboriginal (Indian) and Inuit populations as well as all those living in the north we have a significant need to protect them. Living conditions in these places involve overcrowding and high smoking levels both ideal breeding grounds for transmission of RSV and an intolerance to handling the inflammation in your bronchioles. The same is likely true of many parts of Alaska for my US readers.
It would be too easy to simply state “I only need to give Synagis to those babies under 29 weeks now” but that would do a disservice to the populations in our remote communities both here and in the US.
In case you are wondering, I am not employed by the makers of Synagis here or in the US nor do I have any financial or conflicts otherwise. I am someone I suppose who has seen the difference of before and after and while I will let others debate the merits of giving Synagis from 29 – 32 weeks and above, I wrote this as a reminder that not all populations are the same and therefore we should not paint all susceptible patients with one brush.