Single Patient Room NICUs: Time to Put Parents Minds At Ease

Single Patient Room NICUs: Time to Put Parents Minds At Ease

Some time ago Nick Hall from Graham’s Foundation posted the following question on Linkedin:

Private room vs open bay for the NICU. Can always get a quote from a parent saying it is great but….? At what cost? Impact on staff? Is parent time in those NICUs greater now? Other alternatives?

Included in the post was an article discussing the benefits of such a design.  Below I will look at the benefits and risks and conclude with an answer to his last question.

The NICUs of the 1970s through late 1990s have been described as “barn like” or “open concept” but in recent years the belief that single patient rooms (SPR) would offer greater benefit to infants led to the adoption of such a unit design across North America.  The imagined benefits would be related to improved parent comfort, creating a desire for families to spend more time with their children.  As we move to a “family centred” approach to care, a key goal of all units should be to make their families as comfortable and stress free as possible in order to have a positive experience.

Detractors meanwhile,  speak of concern regarding isolation of such infants when families do not visit and moreover a risk that such infants deprived of sensory experience will have impaired development.  Last year a paper was published that did not help quell such fears; Alterations in Brain Structure and Neurodevelopmental Outcome in Preterm Infants Hospitalized in Different Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Environments (full article in link).  This study which compared infants cared for in SPR to an open unit (the hospital in this study had a mixture of both in their NICU) found a worrisome finding at 2 year follow-up in that the infants in SPR had lower scores on language and a trend towards lower motor scores as well.  Additionally, partly explaining such findings may have been differences noted at term equivalent age in both the structure and activity of the children’s brains compared to those cared for in an open environment.  We were starting construction on a new NICU at the time this paper was published and I can tell you the findings sent shockwaves through our hospital as many wondered whether this was the right decision.

Devil Is in The Details

Looking further into this study, the urban population bore little resemblance to our own.  In our hospital all women are taught how to perform skin to skin care and the majority of our mothers spend a great deal of time with their infants.  To see how successful have a look at our recent Kangaroo Care drive results! The families in this study however the average hours per week of parent visitation over the length of stay ranged from 1.8-104 hours with a mean of 19+/- 19 hours. The average number of days held per week over the length of stay was 0-6 days with a mean of 2.4 +/-1.5 days. The average number of days held skin-to-skin over the length of stay ranged from 0-4 days, with a mean of 0.7 +/- 0.9 days.  In short they were hardly there.

Second Study Finds The Opposite

Later on in 2014 a second study on this subject was published; Single-family room care and neurobehavioral and medical outcomes in preterm infants. Infants < 1500g who were admitted to an NICU between 2008 and 2012 were compared with respect to medical and neurobehavioral outcomes at discharge. Participants included 151 infants in an open-bay NICU and 252 infants after transition to a SPR NICU.

Statistically significant results (all Ps ≤.05) showed that infants in the SPR NICU weighed more at discharge, had a greater rate of weight gain, required fewer medical procedures, had a lower gestational age at full enteral feed and less sepsis, showed better attention, less physiologic stress, less hypertonicity, less lethargy, and less pain. Nurses reported a more positive work environment and attitudes in the SPR NICU.

This study in fact demonstrated greater maternal involvement in a SPR with improvement in outcomes across the board.  It would seem then that in a SPR environment, provided there is enough family visitation and involvement this model truly is superior to the open concept.  Furthermore despite concerns by some nurses that the loss of line of sight to their patients will make for a more stressful working environment this does not seem to be the case.

What About Families Who Cannot or Simply Aren’t Visiting Frequently?

The reality is that there are many reasons for parents to be absent for long periods during their newborns stay. Having a home outside of the city with other children to care for, work obligations, or loss of custody and abandonment due to apprehension are just some of these reasons.  In our hospital, at least 15-20% of all patients admitted are from outside Winnipeg.  The evidence as I see it supports the move to a SPR but what do we do for those children who need more visitation?  The solution is a cuddler program.
CuddlerIn our new hospital we are grateful for the generosity of our Children’s Hospital Foundation who secured a donor to pay for a coordinator of such a program.  The veteran parent who is leading this program ensures that no infant goes beyond a set period of time without feeling the touch or hearing the sound of a voice.  Such a program is in fact already in place at our other tertiary hospital and was featured in a lovely article attached here.  Taking all the information together that is out there I think that if we can provide the necessary stimulation from both touch and auditory stimuli as well we can provide these infants with the developmental needs that each of them requires.

The SPR is the right design in my mind for families with many benefits that spring forth in such an environment. This need not be a win-lose scenario for your hospital. Do not underestimate the power of a cuddler and don’t hesitate to seek support to initiate such a program.  It could mean the difference from going from good to great!

Developmental outcomes for extreme preemies after delivery room CPR.

Developmental outcomes for extreme preemies after delivery room CPR.

We have all been there.  After an uneventful pregnancy a mother presents to the labour floor in active labour.  The families world is turned upside down and she goes on to deliver an infant at 27 weeks.  If the infant is well and receives minimal resuscitation and is on CPAP we provide reassurance and have an optimistic tone.  If however their infant is born apneic and bradycardic and goes on to receive chest compressions +/- epinephrine what do we tell them?  This infant obviously is much sicker after delivery and when the family asks you “will my baby be ok?” what do you tell them?  It is a human tendency to want to reassure and support but if they ask you what the chances are of a good outcome it has always been hard to estimate.  What many of us would default to is making an assumption that the need for CPR at a time when the brain is so fragile may lead to bleeding or ischemia would lead to worse outcomes.  You would mostly be right. One study by Finer et al  entitled Intact survival in extremely low birth weight infants after delivery room resuscitation.demonstrated that survival for infants under 750g was better if they had a history of CPR after delivery.  The thought here is that more aggressive resusctiation might be responsible for the better outcome by I would presume establishing adequate circulation sooner even if the neonates did not appear to need it immediately.

The Canadian Neonatal Network

In Canada we are fortunate to have a wonderful network called the Canadian Neonatal Network.  So many questions have been answered by examining this rich database of NICUs across the county.  Using this database the following paper was just published by Dr. A. Lodha and others; Extensive cardiopulmonary resuscitation of preterm neonates at birth and mortality and developmental outcomes. The paper asked a very specific and answerable question from the database.  For infants born at <29 weeks gestational age who require extensive resuscitation (chest compressions, epinephrine or both) what is the likelihood of survival and/or neurodevelopmental impairment (NDI) at 18-24 months of age vs those that did not undergo such resuscitation?  For NDI, the authors used a fairly standard definition as “any cerebral palsy (GMFCS1), Bayley-III score <85 on one or more of the cognitive, motor or language composite scores, sensorineural or mixed hearing impairment or unilateral or bilateral visual impairment.”  Their secondary outcomes were significant neurodevelopmental impairment (sNDI), mortality, a Bayley-III score of <85 on any one of the components (cognitive, language, motor), sensorineural or mixed hearing loss,or visual impairment.sNDI was defined as the presence of one or more of the following: cerebral palsy with GMFCS 3, Bayley-III cognitive, language or motor composite score <70, hearing impairment requiring hearing aids or cochlear implant, or bilateral visual impairment”

What did they discover?

It is a fortunate thing that the database is so large as when you are looking at something like this the number of infants requiring extensive resuscitation is expected to be small.  The authors collected data from January 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011 and had a total number of infants born at less than 29 weeks of 2760.  After excluding those with congenital anomalies and those who were born moribund they were left with 2587.  From these 80% had follow-up data and when applying the final filter of extensive resuscitation they were left with 190 (9.2%) who received delivery room CPR (DR-CPR) vs 1545 who did not receive this.

Before delving into the actual outcomes it is important to note that neonates who did not receive DR-CPR were more likely to be born to mothers with hypertension and to have received antenatal steroids (89 vs 75%).  With these caveats it is pretty clear that as opposed to the earlier study showing better outcomes after DR-CPR this was not the case here.

The results are interesting in that it is pretty clear that receiving DR-CPR is not without consequence (higher rate of seizures, severe neurological injury, BPD).  Looking at the longer term outcomes though is where things get a little more interesting.  Mortality and mortality or neurodevelopmental impairment are statistically significant with respect to increased risk.  When you take out NDI alone however the CI crosses one and is no longer significant.  Neither is CP for that matter with the only statistically significant difference being the Bayley-III Motor composite score <85.  The fact that only this one finding came out as significant at least to me raises the possibility that this could have been brought about by chance.  It would seem that while these infants are at risk of some serious issues their brains in the long run may be benefiting for the neurological plasticity that we know these infants have.

The study is remarkable to me in that an infant can have such a difficult start to life yet hope may remain even after dealing with some of the trials and tribulations of the NICU.  Parents may need to wade through the troubling times of seizures, long term ventilation and CPAP and then onto a diagosis of BPD but their brains may be ok after all.  This is one of the reasons I love what I do!

Developmental outcomes for extreme preemies after delivery room CPR.

Can a reading program effectively treat apnea of prematurity

As the saying goes, sometimes less is more.  In recent years there has been a move towards this in NICUs as the benefits of family centred care have been shown time and time again.  Hi tech and new pharmaceutical products continue to develop but getting back to the basics of skin to skin care for many hours and presence of families as an integral team member have become promoted for their benefits.  The fetus is a captive audience and hears the mother’s heart beat and voice after the development of hearing sometime between 24-26 weeks gestational age.  This is a normal part of development so it would stand to reason that there could be a benefit to hearing this voice especially after hearing has developed and the fetus has grown accustomed to it.  Hospital including my own have developed reading programs for our patients and some companies have developed speakers in isolettes designed to limit the maximum decibel to 45 but allowing parents to make recordings of their voices.  Music may be played through these speakers as well but today we will focus on the benefit of voice.

Could reading to your baby reduce apnea of prematurity?

This is the question that Scala M et al sought to answer in their paper Effect of reading to preterm infants on measures of cardiorespiratory stability in the neonatal intensive care unit.  This was a small prospective study of the impact of parental reading on cardiorespiratory stability in preterm NICU infants. Eighteen patients were enrolled who were born between 23-31 weeks gestation.  The study was carried out when the babies were between 8-56 days old at a mean postnatal age of 30 weeks. Each patient served as their own control by comparing episodes of oxygen desaturation to <85% during pre-reading periods (3 hours and 1 hour before) to during reading and then 1 hour post reading.  Parents were asked to read or create a recording lasting a minimum of 15 min but up to 60 min of recorded reading.  The parents were offered a standard set of books that had a certain rhythm to the text or could choose their own.  Recorded reading was played for infants up to twice per day by the bedside nurse. While it was small in number of patients the authors point out that the total exposure was large with 1934 min of parental bedside reading analyzed (range 30–270 min per infant, mean 123, median 94 min).  Patients could be on respiratory support ranging from ventilators to nasal cannulae.

Was it effective?

It certainly was. I should mention though that the authors excluded one patient in the end when it was found that they failed their hearing screen.  Arguably, since the infant could not have benefited from the intervention effect this makes sense to me.  As shown from table 3 there was a statistical reduction in desaturation events during the reading period which was sustained in terms of a downward trend for one hour after the intervention was completed. In case you are asking was the difference related to oxygen use the answer is no.  There was no difference in the amount of oxygen provided to patients.  While the events were not eliminated they were certainly reduced.  The other point worth mentioning is that there appears to be a difference between live (through open portholes) vs prerecorded reading (through a speaker in the isolette).

Now for a little controversy

Does source of the reading matter?  The authors found that maternal had a greater effect than paternal voice.  As a father who has read countless books to his children I found this a little off-putting.  As a more objective critic though I suppose I can buy the biologic plausibility here.  I suspect there is an independent effect of voice having a positive impact on development.  If we buy the argument though that the voice that the fetus has most been accustomed to is the mothers, then the findings of an augmented effect of the maternal voice over fathers makes some sense.  I will have to put my ego aside for a moment and acknowledge that the effect here could be real.

There will no doubt need to be larger studies done to drill down a number of questions such as what is the ideal type of reading, duration, rhythmic or non etc but this is a great start.  I also think this falls into the category of “could this really be a bad thing?”.  Even if in the end no benefit is shown to this type of intervention, the potential for family bonding with their preterm infant alone I think is cause for embracing this intervention.

Lastly, with the move to single patient rooms there is one study that demonstrated the isolation encountered from infrequent contact with their newborn can have a long lasting effect on development.  The article by Pineda RG et al Alterations in brain structure and neurodevelopmental outcome in preterm infants hospitalized in different neonatal intensive care unit environments. had a mean parental visitation of 19 +/- 19 hours a week or a little over 2 hours a day but with a very large standard deviation meaning many infants had almost no visitation.  The message here is that while quiet is good for infant development, too much can be a bad thing.  Maybe live reading or even recordings are a way around that.

It’s time to approach nutrition in extreme preemies as if it were a drug

It’s time to approach nutrition in extreme preemies as if it were a drug

One of the benefits of operating this site is that I often learn from the people reading these posts as they share their perspectives.  On a recent trip I was reunited with Boubou Halberg a Neonatologist from Sweden whom I hadn’t seen in many years.  I missed him on my last trip to Stockholm as I couldn’t make it to Karolinska  University but we managed to meet each other in the end.  As we caught up and he learned that I operated this site he passed along a paper of his that left an impact on me and I thought I would share with you.

When we think about treating an infant with a medicinal product, we often think about getting the right drug, right dose and right administration (IV, IM or oral) for maximum benefit to the patient.  When it comes to nutrition we have certainly come a long way and have come to rely on registered dietitians where I work to handle a lot of the planning when it comes to getting the right prescription for our patients.  We seem comfortable though making some assumptions when it comes to nutrition that we would never make with respect to their drug counterparts.  More on that later…

A Swedish Journey to Ponder

Westin R and colleagues (one of whom is my above acquaintance) published a seven year retrospective nutritional journey in 2017 from Stockholm entitled Improved nutrition for extremely preterm infants: A population based observational study.  After recognizing that over this seven year period they had made some significant changes to the way they approached nutrition, they chose to see what effect this had on growth of their infants from 22 0/7 to 26 6/7 weeks over this time by examining four epochs (2004-5, 2006-7, 2008-9 and 2010-11.  What were these changes?  They are summarized beautifully in the following figure.

Not included in the figure was a progressive change as well to a more aggressive position of early nutrition in the first few days of life using higher protein, fat and calories as well as changes to the type of lipid provided being initially soy based and then changing to one primarily derived from olive oil.  Protein targets in the first days to weeks climbed from the low 2s to the mid 3s in gram/kg/d while provision of lipid as an example doubled from the first epoch to the last ending with a median lipid provision in the first three days of just over 2 g/kg/d.

While figure 3 from the paper demonstrates that regardless of time period there were declines in growth across all three measurements compared to expected growth patterns, when one compares the first epoch in 2004-2005 with the last 2010-11 there were significant protective effects of the nutritional strategy in place.  The anticipated growth used as a standard was based on the Fenton growth curves.

What this tells us of course is that we have improved but still have work to do.  Some of the nutritional sources as well were donor breast milk and based on comments coming back from this years Pediatric Academic Society meeting we may need to improve how that is prepared as growth failure is being noted in babies who are receiving donated rather than fresh mother’s own milk.  I suspect there will be more on that as time goes by.

Knowing where you started is likely critical!

One advantage they have in Sweden is that they know what is actually in the breast milk they provide.  Since 1998 the babies represented in this paper have had their nutritional support directed by analyzing what is in the milk provided by an analyzer.  Knowing the caloric density and content of protein, carbohydrates and fats goes a long way to providing a nutritional prescription for individual infants.  This is very much personalized medicine and it would appear the Swedes are ahead of the curve when it comes to this.  in our units we have long assumed a caloric density of about 68 cal/100mL.  What if a mother is producing milk akin to “skim milk” while another is producing a “milkshake”.  This likely explains why some babies despite us being told they should be getting enough calories just seem to fail to thrive.  I can only speculate what the growth curves shown above would look like if we did the same study in units that actually take a best guess as to the nutritional content of the milk they provide.

This paper gives me hope that when it comes to nutrition we are indeed moving in the right direction as most units become more aggressive with time.  What we need to do though is think about nutrition no different than writing prescriptions for the drugs we use and use as much information as we can to get the dosing right for the individual patient!

Capnography or colorimetric detection of CO2 in the delivery suite.  What to choose?

Capnography or colorimetric detection of CO2 in the delivery suite. What to choose?

For almost a decade now confirmation of intubation is to be done using detection of exhaled CO2. The 7th Edition of NRP has the following to say about confirmation of ETT placement “The primary methods of confirming endotracheal tube placement within the trachea are detecting exhaled CO2 and a rapidly rising heart rate.” They further acknowledge that there are two options for determining the presence of CO2 “There are 2 types of CO2 detectors available. Colorimetric devices change color in the presence of CO2. These are the most commonly used devices in the delivery room. Capnographs are electronic monitors that display the CO2 concentration with each breath.” The NRP program stops short of recommending one versus the other. I don’t have access to the costs of the colorimetric detectors but I would imagine they are MUCH cheaper than the equipment and sensors required to perform capnography using the NM3 monitor as an example. The real question though is if capnography is truly better and might change practice and create a safer resuscitation, is it the way to go?

Fast but not fast enough?

So we have a direct comparison to look at. Hunt KA st al published Detection of exhaled carbon dioxide following intubation during resuscitation at delivery this month. They started from the standpoint of knowing from the manufacturer of the Pedicap that it takes a partial pressure of CO2 of 4 mm Hg to begin seeing a colour change from purple to yellow but only when the CO2 reaches 15 mm Hg do you see a consistent colour change with that device. The capnograph from the NM3 monitor on the other hand is quantitative so is able to accurately display when those two thresholds are reached. This allowed the group to compare how long it took to see the first colour change compared to any detection of CO2 and then at the 4 and 15 mm Hg levels to see which is the quicker method of detection. It is an interesting question as what would happen if you were in a resuscitation and the person intubates and swears that they are in but there is no colour change for 5, 10 or 15 seconds or longer? At what point do you pull the ETT? Compare that with a quantitative method in which there is CO2 present but it is lower than 4. Would you leave the tube in and use more pressure (either PIP/PEEP or both?)? Before looking at the results, it will not shock you that ANY CO2 should be detected faster than two thresholds but does it make a difference to your resuscitation?

The Head to Head Comparison

The study was done retrospectively for 64 infants with a confirmed intubation using the NM3 monitor and capnography.  Notably the centre did not use a colorimetric detector as a comparison group but rather relied on the manufacturers data indicating the 4 and 15 mm Hg thresholds for colour changes.  The mean age of patients intubated was 27 weeks with a range of 23 – 34 weeks.  The results I believe show something quite interesting and informative.

Median time secs (range)
Earliest CO2 detection 3.7 (0 – 44s)
4 mm Hg 5.3 (0 – 727)
15 mm Hg 8.1 (0 – 727)

I wouldn’t worry too much about a difference of 1.6 seconds to start getting a colour change but it is the range that has me a little worried.  The vast majority of the patients demonstrated a level of 4 or 15 mm Hg within 50 seconds although many were found to take 25-50 seconds.  When compared to a highest level of 44 seconds in the first detection of CO2 group it leads one to scratch their head.  How many times have you been in a resuscitation and with no CO2 change you keep the ETT in past 25 seconds?  Looking closer at the patients, there were 12 patients that took more than 30 seconds to reach a threshold of 4 mm Hg.  All but one of the patients had a heart rate in between 60-85.  Additionally there was an inverse relationship found between gestational age and time to detection.  In other words, the smallest of the babies in the study took the longest to establish the threshold of 4 and 15 mm Hg.

Putting it into context?

What this study tells me is that the most fragile of infants may take the longest time to register a colour change using the colorimetric devices.  It may well be that these infants take longer to open up their pulmonary vasculature and deliver CO2 to the alveoli.  As well these same infants may take longer to open the lung and exhale the CO2.  I suppose I worry that when a resuscitation is not going well and an infant at 25 weeks is bradycardic and being given PPV through an ETT without colour change, are they really not intubated?  In our own centre we use capnometry in these infants (looks for a wave form of CO2) which may be the best option if you are looking to avoid purchasing equipment for quantitative CO2 measurements.  I do worry though that in places where the colorimetric devices are used for all there will be patients who are extubated due to the thought that they in fact have an esophageal intubation when the truth is they just need time to get the CO2 high enough to register a change in colour.

Anyways, this is food for thought and a chance to look at your own practice and see if it is in need of a tweak…