It’s World Prematurity Day today and if you are a parent or are caring for a baby who has just entered this world before 37 weeks GA you are now part of a membership that counts 15 million new babies each year according to the WHO’s data. As I tell most new parents who have a baby admitted to our unit “It’s ok to take some time to adjust to this. You didn’t plan on being here”. That is true for most who go into spontaneous labour but of course those who are electively delivered due to maternal or fetal indications that have been followed closely often have time to prepare for the journey to the NICU. Many of these parents will have had the opportunity to visit the NICU or even connect with other parents before the anticipated birth of their child to at least get a glimpse into what life is like in the NICU. Much has been written about parental stress and methods to reduce it and I find that a piece that appeared in the Huffington Post offers some good pointers to helping parents manage the transition from pregnancy to NICU. The piece is entitled 5 Things Never To Say To Parents Of Preemies (And What To Say Instead).It is well worth a read but the one thing that stuck out in my mind is one very important thing to say.
Congratulations on the birth of your baby
There is no doubt that the family who gives birth to a preterm infant is experiencing stress. What may be lost in the first few days of surfactant, central lines and looking for sepsis among other things is that a new member of the 15 million strong has entered this world. They have a new child and just like anyone else should receive a congratulations. No one needs to tell them to be worried. They already are and likely view many of the possibilities more pessimistically than you do. Taking a moment to say congratulations though may go a long way to reminding them that amidst all this stress there is something to rejoice in and look to the future. If we aren’t supportive then I have no doubt the subconscious message is that they shouldn’t have hope either. I am not suggesting that we sugarcoat what is really going on but one can be honest about likely outcomes and still celebrate the arrival of a new baby. Much has also been written recently about a number of strategies to reduce stress in the NICU such as skin to skin care, integration of families more closely into the patient care team and forming parent support groups just to name a few. What else can be done to improve the quality of life for parents going through this journey?
Enrol Your Baby In A Research Study
I work in an academic centre and given the volume of research projects at any given time there is a need to approach families and sometimes quite soon after delivery. interestingly, I have heard from time to time that individuals have been hesitant to approach families due to a feeling that they are overwhelmed and won’t be receptive to being approached in this fragile state. I am guilty of the same thoughts from time to time but maybe it is time I reconsider. Nordheim T et al just published an interesting study on this topic entitled Quality of life in parents of preterm infants in a randomized nutritional intervention trial. This study was actually a study of parents within a study that called the PreNu trial that involved an intervention of a energy and protein supplemental strategy to enhance weight at discharge. The trial was an RCT and unfortunately although well intentioned was stopped when the intervention group was found to have an unexpected increase in sepsis rates. Although this study did not ultimately find a positive outcome there were additional analyses performed of quality of life and parental stress at two time points the first being during the hospital stay and the second at 3.5 years of age. The patients were all treated the same aside from the nutritional intake and in the end 30 intervention parents and 31 single parents not enrolled in a study (many in couples) participated in the study. In followup a little less than 70% completed the stress measures at 3.5 years. The results are found below.
How Do We Interpret This
The parents in this study who were part of the intervention group were about 3 years older so perhaps with more life experience may have developed some better coping strategies but during the hospital stay those who participated in research had better measures of quality of life and at three years better reports of sleep and energy levels. The study is quite small so we need to take all of this with a grain of salt with respect to the 3.5 year outcomes as there are so many variables that could happen along the way to explain this difference but I think it may be fair to acknowledge the quality of life measure during the stay. Why might parents report these findings? The finding of better quality of life is especially interesting given that more patients in this study had sepsis which one would think would make for a worse result. Here are a few thoughts.
Involvement in research may have increased their knowledge base as they learned about nutrition and expected weight gain in the NICU.
Frequent interaction with researchers may have given them more attention and with it more education.
Some parents may have simply felt better about knowing they were helping others who would come after them. I have heard this comment myself many times and suspect that it would be attributable at least to a certain extent.
A better understanding of the issues facing their infants through education may have reduced stress levels due to avoiding “fear of the unknown”.
Regardless of the exact reason behind the findings what stands out in my mind is that participation in research likely provides comfort for parents who are in the midst of tremendous stress. Is it the altruistic desire to help others or being able to find something good in the face of a guarded outlook? I don’t know but I do believe that what this study tells us is that we shouldn’t be afraid to approach families.
After first congratulating them give them a little time to absorb their new reality and then offer them the chance to improve the care for the next 15 million that will come this time next year for World Prematurity Day 2017.
I had a chance recently to drive a Tesla Model S with autopilot. Taking the car out on a fairly deserted road near my home I flicked the lever twice to activate the autopilot feature and put my hands behind my head while the vehicle took me where I wanted to go. As I cruised down the road with the wheel automatically turning with the curves in the road and the car speeding up or slowing down based on traffic and speed limit notices I couldn’t help but think of how such technology could be applied to medicine. How far away could the self driving ventilator or CPAP device be from development?
I have written about automatic saturation adjustments in a previous post but this referred to those patients on mechanical ventilation. Automatic adjustments of FiO2. Ready for prime time? Why is this goal so important to attain? The reasoning lies in the current design trends in modern NICUs. We are in the middle of a large movement towards single patient room NICUs which have many benefits such as privacy which may lead to enhanced breastfeeding rates and increased parental visitation. The downside, having spoken to people in centres where such designs are already in place is the challenge nursing faces when given multiple assignments of babies on O2. If you have to go from room to room and a baby is known to be labile in their O2 saturations it is human nature to turn the O2 up a little more than you otherwise would to give yourself a “cushion” while you are out of the room. I really don’t fault people in this circumstance but it does pose the question as to whether in a few years we will see a rise in oxygen related tissue injury such as CLD or ROP from such practice. In the previous post I wrote about babies who are ventilated but these infants will often be one to one nursed so the tendency to overshoot the O2 requirements may be less than the baby on non- invasive ventilation.
A System For Controlling O2 Automatically For Infants on Non-Invasive Ventilation
The study was really a proof of concept with 20 preterm infants (mean GA 27.5 weeks, 8 days of age on average) included who each underwent two hours of manual control by nursing to keep saturations between 90-94% and then 4 hours of automated control (sats 91 – 95%) then back to manual for two hours. The slightly shifted ranges were required due to the way in which midpoint saturations are calculated. The essential setup was a computer equipped with an algorithm to make adjustments in FiO2 using an output to a motor that would adjust the O2 blender and then feedback from an O2 saturation monitor back to the computer. The system was equipped with an override to allow nursing to adjust in the event of poor signal or lack of response to the automatic adjustment.
The results though demonstrate that the system works and moreover does a very good job! The average percentage of time that the saturations were in the target range were significantly better with automated control (81% automated, 56% manual). As well as depicted in the following figure the amount of time spent in both hypoxic and hyperoxic ranges was considerable with manual control but non-existent on either tail with automated control (defined as < 85% or > 98% where black bars are manual control and white automatic).
From the figure you can see that the amount of time the patients are in target range are much higher with automatic control but is this simply because in addition to automatic control, nurses are “grabbing the wheel” and augmenting the system here? Not at all.
“During manual control epochs, FiO2 adjustments of at least 1% were made 2.3 (1.3–3.4) times/hour by bedside staff. During automated control, the minimum alteration to FiO2 of 0.5% was being actuated by the servomotor frequently (9.9 alterations/min overall), and changes to measured FiO2 of at least 1% occurred at a frequency of 64 (49–98) /hour. When in automated control, a total of 18 manual adjustments were made in all 20 recordings (0.24 adjustments/hour), a reduction by 90% from the rate of manual adjustments observed during manual control (2.3/hour).”
From the above quote from the paper it is clear that automated control works to keep the saturation goal through roughly 7 X the number of adjustments than nursing makes per hour. It is hard to keep up with that pace when you have multiple assignments but that is what you need I suppose! The use of the auto setting here reduced the amount of nursing interventions to adjust FiO2 by 90% and yields tighter control of O2 saturations.
Dare to Dream
Self driving oxygen administration is coming and this proof of concept needs to be developed and soon into a commercial solution. The risk of O2 damage to developing tissues is too great not to bring this technology forward to the masses. As we prepare to move into a new institution I sincerely hope that this solution arrives in time but regardless I know our nurses and RRTs will do their best as they always do until such a device comes along. When it does imagine all of the time that could be devoted to other areas of care once you were able to move away from the non-invasive device!
I think it is safe to say that this topic stirs up emotions on both sides of the argument of how aggressive to be when it comes to resuscitating some of these infants, particularly those at 22 and 23 weeks. Where I work we have drawn a line at 23 weeks for active resuscitation but there are those that would point out the challenge of creating such a hard-line when the accuracy of dating a pregnancy can be off by anywhere from 5 – 14 days. Having said that, this is what we have decided after much deliberation and before entertaining anything further it is critical to determine how well these infants are doing not just in terms of survival but also in the long run. In the next 6 months our first cohort should be coming up for their 18 month follow ups so this will be an informative time for sure.
Do Days Matter?
This is the subject of a short report out of Australia by Schindler T et al. In this communication they looked at the survival alone for preterm infants in a larger study but broke them down into 3 and four-day periods from 23 to 25 weeks as shown below.
The asterisk over the two bars means that the improvement in survival was statistically significant between being born in the last half of the preceding week and the first half of the next week. In this study in other words days make a difference. A word of caution is needed here though. When you look at the variation in survival in each category one sees that while the means are statistically different the error bars show some overlap with the previous half week. At a population level we are able to say that for the average late 23 week infant survival is expected to be about 30% in this study and about 55% at 24 +0-3 days. What do you say to the individual parent though? I am not suggesting that this information is useless as it serves to provide us with an average estimate of outcome. It also is important I believe in that it suggests that dating on average is fairly accurate. Yes the dates may be off for an individual by 5 – 14 days but overall when you group everyone together when a pregnancy is dated it is reasonably accurate for the population.
Don’t become a slave to the number
The goal of this post is to remind everyone that while these numbers are important for looking at average outcomes they do not provide strict guidance for outcome at the individual level. For an individual, the prenatal history including maternal nutrition, receipt of antenatal steroids, timing of pregnancy dating and weight of the fetus are just some of the factors that may lead us to be more or less optimistic about the chances for a fetus. Any decisions to either pursue or forego treatment should be based on conversations with families taking into account all factors that are pertinent to the decision for that family. Age is just a number as people say and I worry that a graph such as the one above that is certainly interesting may be used by some to sway families one way or another based on whether the clock has turned past 12 AM. At 23 weeks 3 days and 23 hours do we really think that the patient is that much better off than at 24 weeks 4 days and 1 hour?
It is hard to believe but All Things Neonatal is a year old. When I started this little concept I had no idea what was to come but am delighted with where it has gone. While the Blog site itself has about 200 followers, the Facebook page is home to nearly 4200 followers with twitter accounting for over 500 more. What began as a forum for me to get some thoughts off my chest about neonatal topics or articles of interest has morphed into a place to create change. As I look back over the last year I thought I would update the readers of this page and other social media platforms what the outcome has been for some of the ideas that I have brought forward. We have implemented some of these suggestions into our own unit practices, so without further ado here are the updates for some (but not all!) of the changes we have introduced.
Articles pertaining to use of Telehealth in all aspects of medicine are becoming commonplace. Locally we have seen expansion of rural sites that can connect with us and a strong desire by existing sites to connect via telehealth for a variety of reasons. While the thrust of the program was to deliver advice to rural practitioners and support our level I and II units we have found such support leading to possibilities we had not dreamed of. Initial discussions via telehealth and in person have occurred examining whether such treatments as CPAP stabilization and NG feedings could be done in these sites. Being able to provide such care will no doubt lead to more stable infants being transported to our site and moreover the possibility of moving the care for infants needing only gavage feeding back to their home communities. Who knows what the future will hold for us as we also look forward to the hiring of a telehealth coordinator for NICU!
This has been one of my favourite topics to write about. The ability to sample CO2 from an area near the carina has been demonstrated to be accurate and to save pokes in the long run. Since writing this piece we have tried it on several babies by using a double lumen tube and found the results to be as accurate as described in the Israeli papers. In practice though, secretions have proved difficult to handle for longer periods of use as they can travel up the sampling lines and damage the filters in the analyzers. A costly issue to deal with that we are currently trying to solve. Being able to continuously sample CO2 and adjust ventilation without drawing frequent blood gases is somewhat of a dream for me and we will continue to see how we can go about making this an established practice but there is work to be done!
I think most people in Winnipeg would say the answer is yes. On this front two major positive changes have occurred in the last year in this regard. The first is that through a generous donation and the blessing of our health region we have been able to expand the use of donor breast milk from < 1250g for a two week period to < 1500g for a one month period. This wonderful change came about after much effort and was celebrated in December as we not only expanded the eligibility criteria but partnered with the NorthernStar Mother’s Milk Bank to provide donor milk to Manitobans (Manitobans Now Able To Support Premature Infants Through Donor Milk Program!). The other change which the above post also spoke of was the potential to eliminate bovine milk altogether with the use of Prolacta (Human based human milk fortifier). While we don’t have the approval to use the product as traditionally indicated, we have used it as a “rescue” for those patients who demonstrate a clear intolerance of bovine fortifier. Such patients would traditionally receive inadequate nutrition with no other option available but now several have received such rescue and we look forward to analyzing the results of such a strategy shortly!
Without question the most talked about change was the change in threshold for recommending resuscitation from 24 to 23 weeks. The change took almost a year to roll out and could not have been done without a massive educational rollout that so many people (a special thank you to our nurse educators!) took part in. Looking back on the year we have now seen several infants at 23 weeks who survived with a small minority dying in the newborn period. It is too early to look at long term outcomes but I think many of us have been surprised with just how well many of these children have done. Moreover I believe we may be seeing a “creep effect” at work as the outcomes of infants under 29 weeks have also improved as we developed new guidelines to provide the best care possible to these vulnerable infants. Antenatal steroid use is up, IVH down and at least from January to September of last year no infants died at HSC under 29 weeks! I look forward to seeing our results in the future and cannot tell you how impressed I am with how our entire team came together to make this all happen!
I wanted to share some of the initiatives that came forward or were chronicled on these pages over the last year to show you that this forum is not just a place for my mind to aimlessly wander. It is a place that can create change; some good, some great and no doubt some that won’t take. It has also been a place where ideas are laid out that have come from afar. From readers anywhere in the world who ask a question on one of the social media sites that get me thinking! I have enjoyed the past year and expect I will continue to enjoy what may spring forth from these pages for some time to come. Thank you for your contributions and I hope you get a little something out of this as well!
In the spirit of full disclosure I have to admit I have never placed a laryngeal mask airway (LMA) in a newborn of any gestational age. I have played with them in simulated environments and on many occasion mentioned that they are a great alternative to an ETT especially in those situations where intubation may not be possible due to the skill of the provider or the difficulty of the airway in the setting of micrognathia for example.
In recent years though we have heard of examples of surfactant delivery via these same devices although typically these were only case reports. More recently a small randomized study of 26 infants by Attridge et al demonstrated in the group randomized to surfactant administration through an LMA that oxygen requirements were reduced after dosing. This small pilot provides sufficient evidence to show that it is possible to provide surfactant and that at least some gets into the airway of the newborn. This proof of concept though while interesting, did not answer the question of whether such delivery of surfactant would be the same or better than through an ETT. As readers of my blog posts know, my usual stance on things is that the less invasive the better and as I look through the literature, I am drawn to concepts such as this to see if they can be added to our toolbox of non or less invasive strategies in the newborn.
A Minimally Invasive Technique For The Masses?
This past month, a small study by Pinheiro et al sought to answer this question by using 61 newborns between 29 0/7 – 36 6/7 weeks and greater than 1000g and randomizing them to either surfactant via the INSURE technique or LMA. I cannot stress enough so will get it out of the way at the start that this strategy is not for those <1000g as the LMA is not designed to fit them properly and the results (to be shown) should not be generalized to this population. Furthermore then study included only those infants who needed surfactant between 4 – 48 hours of age, were on CPAP of at least 5 cm H2O and were receiving FiO2 between 30 – 60%. All infants given surfactant via the insure technique were premedicated with atropine and morphine while those having an LMA received atropine only. The primary outcome of the study was need for subsequent intubation or naloxone within 1 hour of surfactant administration. The study was stopped early after an interim analysis (done as the fellow involved was finishing their fellowship – on a side note I find this an odd reason to stop) demonstrated better outcomes in the group randomized to the LMA.
Before we get into the results let’s address the possible shortcomings of the study as they might already be bouncing around your heads. This study could not be blinded and therefore there could be a significant bias to the results. The authors did have predetermined criteria for reintubation and although not presented, indicate that those participating stuck to these criteria so we may have to acknowledge they did the best they could here. Secondly the study did not reach their numbers for enrolment based on their power calculation. This may be ok though as they found a difference which is significant. If they had found no difference I don’t think I would be even writing this entry! Lastly this study used a dose of surfactant at 3 mL/kg. How well would this work with the formulation that we use BLES that requires 5 mL/kg?
What were the results?
What do these results tell us? The majority of failures occurred within an hour of delivery of surfactant in the ETT group? How does this make any sense? Gastric aspirates for those in the LMA group but not the INSURE group suggest some surfactant missed the lung in the former so one would think the intubation group should have received more surfactant overall however it would appear to be the premedication. The rate of needing surfactant afterwards is no different and in fact there is a trend to needing reintubation more often in the LMA group but the study was likely underpowered to detect this difference. Only two patients were given naloxone to reverse the respiratory depressive effects of morphine in those given the INSURE technique so I can’t help but speculate that if this practice was more frequent many of the reintubations might have been avoided. This group was quite aggressive in sticking to the concept of INSURE as they aimed to extubate following surfactant after 5 – 15 minutes. I am a strong advocate of providing RSI to those being electively intubated but if the goal is to extubate quickly then I believe one must be ready to administer naloxone soon after extubation if signs of respiratory depression are present and this did not happen effectively in this study. Some may argue those getting the INSURE technique should not be given any premedication at all but that is a debate that will go on for years I am sure but they may have a valid point given this data.
Importantly complications following either procedure were minimal and no different in either group.
Where do we go from here?
Despite some of the points above I think this study could prove to be important for several reasons. I think it demonstrates that in larger preterm infants it is possible to avoid any mechanical ventilation and still administer surfactant. Many studies using the minimally invasive surfactant treatment (MIST) approach have been done but these still require the skill of laryngoscopy which takes a fair bit of skill to master. The LMA on the other hand is quite easy to place and is a skill that can be taught widely. Secondly, we know that even a brief period of over distension from PPV can be harmful to the lung therefore a strategy which avoids intubation and direct pressure to the lung may offer some longer term benefit although again this was not the study to demonstrate that.
Lastly, I see this as a strategy to look at in more rural locations where access to highly skilled level III care may not be readily available. We routinely field calls from rural sites with preterm infants born with RDS and the health care provider either is unable to intubate or is reluctant to try in favour of using high flow oxygen via mask. Many do not have CPAP either to support such infants so by the time our Neonatal Transport team arrives the RDS is quite significant. Why not try surfactant through the LMA? If it is poorly seated over the airway and the dose goes into the stomach I don’t see them being in any worse shape than if they waited for the team to arrive. If some or all of the dose gets in though there could be real benefit.
Might this be right for your centre? As we think about outreach education and NRP I think this may well become a strong reason to spend a little more time on LMA training. We may be on to something!
Another year has passed and another World Prematurity Day is upon us. I thought about what to write for this day that draws attention to premature infants worldwide and was hit with many ideas which no doubt will form the basis for many posts to come. There was one thought that struck me though as being so important to think about as we push forward, striving to improve survival across the globe for our smallest patients. There is no doubt that you will have heard the expression “just because we can do something, should we?” In 2015 I don’t think this applies more than at this very moment.
At a Tipping Point
You see we are at a tipping point as Malcolm Gladwell explained so brilliantly in his book by the same name. In April of 2015 Rysavy et al published the results of survival and morbidity data for infants born in 24 US hospitals between the ages of 22 – 26 weeks. The nearly 5000 infants included demonstrated two very important things. Firstly, survival is possible at 22 and 23 weeks and there is a chance, albeit less than 50% that these infants will survive without moderate or severe disability. Secondly, at these gestational ages 75% of hospitals included provided active resuscitation to these infants. Given that this is the largest study out there and shows that survival is possible and we can expect to see some good outcomes it would seem logical to move forward with universal resuscitation of these infants would it not?
You Are Going To Practice on What?!
As the saying goes though, “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”. Not all hospitals have equal performance at these gestational ages which is demonstrated in the ranges of outcomes across hospitals as shown in the Rysavy paper. To even suggest that we need to practice on premature babies will no doubt leave many of you feeling queasy but in essence that is what is truly needed to improve our outcomes further. An infant born at 22 – 24 weeks is vastly different than one born at a later gestational age. Their skin is extremely fragile and prone to breakage with resultant risk of infection. Their lungs are in a stage of development that has yet to produce any real abundance of gas exchanging alveoli and their brains lacking the sulci and gyri that are to come many weeks later. They are in need of meticulous “best practice” care and without that their outcomes are certainly to be influenced. Depending on the centre though, you may see 5, 10, 15, 20 patients a year at these ages. How can a team possibly gain enough experience in treating these children appropriately if they see 1 or 2 every two months? Add to this that you may have 10 different Neonatologists so on average each of you may take care of one patient a year at birth. This is a recipe prone to poor outcomes if you ask me.
The Evolution of the Small Baby Unit
The answer no doubt will lie in creating smaller teams; so called “Small Baby Units”. Such units have small groups of health care providers dedicated to treating such infants thereby increasing the frequency of individuals exposure to these babies. There is some recent evidence published in Pediatrics that supports this notion. Small Baby Unit Improves Quality and Outcomes in Extremely Low Birth Weight Infants. In this study a period of two years before and four years after opening such a unit were compared across a number of measures. The findings were as follows “There was a reduction in chronic lung disease from 47.5% to 35.4% (P = .097). The rate of hospital-acquired infection decreased from 39.3% to 19.4% (P < .001). Infants being discharged with growth restriction (combined weight and head circumference <10th percentile) decreased from 62.3% to 37.3% (P = .001). Reduced resource utilization was demonstrated as the mean number per patient of laboratory tests decreased from 224 to 82 (P < .001) and radiographs decreased from 45 to 22 (P < .001).” I hope you would agree that achievements such as these are worth the effort to create such an environment. Future studies I believe will confirm these findings although having the gold standard RCT may be difficult to achieve as I suspect we will have lost equipoise.
This brings me to the final point though and that is whether we are ready as a health care system for the increase patient load that this change will bring about. Based on an expected stay of 4 months for a baby born at this age and knowing the average number of such babies delivered per year, we would be looking at about 600 patient days per year added to each hospital’s occupancy in our two centres. This represents about a 5% increase in patient bed days per year. Five percent may not seem like a large increase at first blush but when we like many hospitals have been trying to deal with staffing issues and many days in which we are at or near capacity, this is not an insignificant challenge. It is a challenge though that we must face head on. Resources must be found, and space provided to accommodate for these children. We live in a world now where it is not solely up to us but to the family as well who must be integral to any such decision to either pursue or withdraw care. News of such infants surviving has spread to the public and I have no doubt that many families will have heard stories of such survivors. The next phase of care for these infants must address the shortcomings in care at the moment.
How do we educate families about what to expect in the long run?
How do we support these families when they make such difficult decisions either way?
How do we support our front line staff who may hold quite discrepant viewpoints about what is “right” yet expect them to function as one team moving clearly in a direction that supports the family?
How do we ensure that our focus on our smallest infants does not distract us from the attention needed by those born at later gestational ages?
I could go on but these are just some of the questions that I hope the next year begins to tackle. We are in the midst of an evolutionary point in Neonatology and we owe it to ourselves and the families we care for to navigate this change as best we can.