I am fortunate to work with a group of inter-professionals who strive for perfection. When you connect such people with those with skills in multimedia you create the opportunity for education. I can’t say enough about the power of education and moreover the ability to improve patient outcomes when it is done well.
With this post I am going to be starting to share a collection of videos that I will release from time to time. The hope with any release like this is that you the reader wherever you are may find some use from these short clips. My thanks to the team that put these together as the quality is beyond compare and the HD quality is great for viewing on any device.
Placing A Chest Tube Can Be A Difficult Thing
As I said to a colleague in training the other day, a chest tube may seem daunting but once you see how it is done it loses some of its intimidation. Having said that, once you see it placed it can be a long time between opportunities for you to view another. That is where having a repository of videos comes in that you can watch prior to the next opportunity. These very short clips are easy to access when needed and may calm the nerves the next time you are called to place a chest tube.
A Word About Chest Tubes
The videos in question demonstrate how to place a Thal quick chest tube. In case this looks foreign to you it may be because you are using the older generation style of chest tubes that come equipped with a trocar. Even without the use of the trocar, these rigid tubes carry a significant risk of lung laceration or other tissue injury. For a review of such complications related to chest tube insertion see Thoracostomy tubes: A comprehensive review of complications and related topics.
The jury as they say is still out with respect to the use of these softer chest tube sets. There is no question that they are easier to place than the traditional thoracostomy tube. Their pliability though does carry a significant risk of kinking or blockage as we have seen in some patients when the Thal chest tube set is used to drain fluid in particular. Less of an issue with air leaks.
Start of a series
This post I suppose marks a slightly new direction for the blog. While I thoroughly enjoy educating you with the posts about topics of interest I see an opportunity to help those who are more visual in their learning. The videos will be posted over the next while with accompanying written posts such as this. They can be accessed on my Youtube channel at
This is becoming “all the rage” as they say. I first heard about the strategy of feeding while on CPAP from colleagues in Calgary. They had created the SINC * (Safe Individualized Feeding Competence) program to provide an approach to safely introducing feeding to those who were still requiring CPAP. As news of this approach spread a great deal of excitement ensued as one can only imagine that in these days when attainment of oral feeding is a common reason for delaying discharge, could getting an early start shorten hospital stay? I could describe what they found with the implementation of this strategy but I couldn’t do it the same justice as the presenter of the data did at a recent conference in Winnipeg. For the slide set you can find them here. As you can imagine, in this experience out of Calgary though they did indeed find that wonderful accomplishment of shorter hospital stays in the SINC group. We have been so impressed with the results and the sensibility of it all that we in fact have embraced the concept and introduced it here in both of our units. The protocol for providing this approach is the following.
I have to admit, while I have only experienced this approach for a short time the results do seem to be impressive. Although anecdotal a parent even commented the other day that she felt that SINC was instrumental in getting her baby’s feeding going! With all this excitement around this technique I was thrown a little off kilter when a paper came out suggesting we should put a full stop to feeding on CPAP!
What caused my spirits to dampen? This study enrolled preterm infants who were still on CPAP at ≥ 34 weeks PMA and were taking over 50% of required feeding volumes by NG feeding. The goal was to look at 15 patients who were being fed on CPAP +5 and with a mean FiO2 of 25% (21-37%) using video fluoroscopic swallowing studies to determine whether such patients aspirate when being fed. The researchers became concerned when each of the first seven patients demonstrated abnormalities of swallowing function indicating varying degrees of aspiration. As such they took each patient off CPAP in the radiology suite and replaced it with 1 l/min NP to achieve acceptable oxygen saturations and repeated the study again. The results of the two swallow studies showed remarkable differences in risk to the patient and as such the recruitment of further patients was stopped due to concerns of safety and a firm recommendation of avoiding feeding while on CPAP was made.
Table 2. Percentage of all swallows identified with swallowing dysfunction
Variable Mean ± s.d.
Mean ± s.d.
Mean ± s.d.
Mild pen. %
Deep pen. %
Nasopharyngeal reflux %
Taking these results at face value it would seem that we should put an abrupt halt to feeding while on CPAP but as the saying goes the devil is in the details…
CPAP Using Ram Cannulae
Let me start off by saying that I don’t have any particular fight to pick with the RAM cannulae. They serve a purpose and that is they allow CPAP to be delivered with a very simple set of prongs and avoid the hats, straps and such of more traditional CPAP devices. We have used them as temporary CPAP delivery when moving a patient from one area to another. As the authors state the prongs are sized in order to ensure the presence of a leak. This has to do with the need to provide a way for the patient to exhale when nasal breathing. Prongs that are too loose have a large leak and may not deliver adequate pressure while those that are too tight may inadvertently deliver high pressure and therefore impose significant work of breathing on the patient. Even with appropriate sizing these prongs do not allow one to exhale against a low pressure or flow as is seen with the “fluidic flip” employed with the infant flow interface. With the fluidic flip, exhalation occurs against very little resistance thereby reducing work of breathing which is not present with the use of the RAM cannula.
Trying to feed an infant who is working against a constant flow as delivered by the RAM cannulae is bound to cause problems. I don’t think it should be a surprise to find that trying to feed while struggling to breathe increases the risk of aspiration. Similarly, under treating a patient by placing them on nasal prongs would lead to increased work of breathing as while you may provide the needed O2 it is at lower lung volumes. Increasing work of breathing places infants at increased risk of aspiration. That is what I would take from this study. Interestingly, looking at the slide set from Calgary they did in fact use CPAP with the fluidic flip. Smart people they are. It would be too easy to embrace the results of this study and turn your nose to the SINC approach to feeding on CPAP. Perhaps somewhere out there someone will read this and think twice about abandoning the SINC approach and a baby will be better for it.
* SINC algorithm and picture of the fluidic flip courtesy of Stacey Dalgleish and the continued work of Alberta Health Services
Producing milk for your newborn and perhaps even more so when you have had a very preterm infant with all the added stress is not easy. The benefits of human milk have been documented many times over for preterm infants. In a cochrane review from 2014 use of donor human milk instead of formula was associated with a reduction in necrotizing enterocolitis. More recently similar reductions have been seen in retinopathy of prematurity. Interestingly with respect to the latter it would appear that any amount of breast milk leads to a reduction in ROP. Knowing this finding we should celebrate every millilitre of milk that a mother brings to the bedside and support them when it does not flow as easily as they wish. While it would be wonderful for all mothers to supply enough for their infant and even more so that excess could be donated for those who can’t themselves we know this not to be the case. What we can do is minimize stress around the issue by informing parents that every drop counts and to celebrate it as such!
Why Is Breast Milk So Protective
Whether the outcome is necrotizing enterocolitis or ROP the common pathway is one of inflammation. Mother’s own milk contains many anti-inflammatory properties and has been demonstrated to be superior to formula in that regard by Friel and no difference exists between preterm and term versions. Aside from the anti-inflammatory protection there may be other factors at work such as constituents of milk like lactoferrin that may have a protective effect as well although a recent trial would not be supportive of this claim.
Could Mother’s Own Milk Have a Dose Response Effect in Reducing The Risk of BPD?
This is what is being proposed by a study published in early November entitled Influence of own mother’s milk on bronchopulmonary dysplasia and costs. What is special about this study and is the reason I chose to write this post is that the study is unusual in that it didn’t look at the effect of an exclusive human milk diet but rather attempted to isolate the role of mother’s own milk as it pertains to BPD. Patients in this trial were enrolled prospectively in a non randomized fashion with the key difference being the quantity of mothers own milk consumed in terms of a percentage of oral intake. Although donor breast milk existed in this unit, the patients included in this particular cohort only received mother’s own milk versus formula. All told, 254 infants were enrolled in the study. As with many studies looking at risks for BPD the usual culprits were found with male sex being a risk along with smaller and less mature babies and receipt of more fluid in the first 7 days of age. What also came up and turned out after adjusting for other risk factors to be significant as well in terms of contribution was the percentage of mother’s own milk received in the diet.
Every ↑ of 10% = reduction in risk of BPD at 36 weeks PMA by 9.5%
That is a really big effect! Now what about a reduction in costs due to milk? That was difficult to show an independent difference but consider this. Each case of BPD had an additional cost in the US health care system of $41929!
What Lesson Can be Learned Here?
Donor breast milk programs are a very important addition to the toolkit in the NICU. Minimizing the reliance on formula for our infants particularly those below 1500g has reaped many benefits as mentioned above. The availability of such sources though should not deter us from supporting the mothers of these infants in the NICU from striving to produce as much as they can for their infants. Every drop counts! A mother for example who produces only 20% of the needed volume of milk from birth to 36 weeks corrected age may reduce the risk of her baby developing BPD by almost 20%. That number is astounding in terms of effect size. What it also means is that every drop should be celebrated and every mother congratulated for producing what they can. We should encourage more production but rejoice in every 10% milestone.
What it also means in terms of cost is that the provision of lactation consultants in the NICU may be worth their weight in gold. I don’t know what someone performing such services earns in different institutions but if you could avoid two cases of BPD a year in the US I would suspect that nearly $84000 in cost savings would go a long way towards paying for such extra support.
Lastly, it is worth noting that with the NICU environment being as busy as it is sometimes the question “are you planning on breastfeeding?” may be missed. As teams we should not assume that the question was discussed on admission. We need to ask with intention whether a mother is planning on breastfeeding and take the time if the answer is “no” to discuss why it may be worth reconsidering. Results like these are worth the extra effort!
Throughout my career one thing has been consistently true. That is that wherever I was working and regardless of the role I have been an educator. I imagine the blog to a great extent is related to my interest in this aspect of my work. In the last few years much has been said about care by parents whether it be a general approach for family centred care or in formalized approaches such as FiCare which has also been formally studied in the research setting. When we speak of family centred care, one thing that I am constantly reminded of is that the focus of all of our efforts must be on the family and the patient. As I said recently to a colleague when discussing what was presented as a difficult discussion with another colleague due to a disagreement about the direction of management, when you put the patient first the discussion really isn’t difficult at all. It’s not about you or a colleagues ego but about the patient and if the management is not up to par then change direction and worry about managing egos later.
What We Know And What They Know
Another aspect that needs to be addressed is the difference in power that we have through knowledge. I am not talking about us exerting authority over families but from the perspective of us having the knowledge from years of experience in the field as to what is significant and what is not in terms of events in the NICU. The evidence for example with respect to neurodevelopmental outcome from apnea and bradycardia should give us reason to be optimistic the majority of the time. While in Edmonton I learned a great deal from one of my colleagues who was the lead author in a paper entitled Early childhood neurodevelopment in very low birth weight infants with predischarge apnea. While frequent apnea may be associated with mild motor impairments in their paper, the predictive value of these predischarge recordings is very limited when you take away those kids without severe IVH. I think about all of the parents we see who have their eyes glued to the monitors while they attend at the bedside and what they must be thinking. To us it is just a matter of time but I wonder for them how agonizing a time it really is! It isn’t just those infants who are nearing discharge and having apnea either as the CAP study at 5 years of age showed no difference in survival without disability in those infants who received caffeine vs those who did not. More frequent events may not be that detrimental after all. I am not suggesting we not treat patients as one never knows where the threshold lies to cause injury but these preemies are certainly made of some tough stuff.
Identifying Stress and Preparing Parents For it
The first step in dealing with this issue is to know it is there. Recognizing this, Melnyk and others performed an educational intervention targeting behaviour of families in their study Reducing premature infants’ length of stay and improving parents’ mental health outcomes with the Creating Opportunities for Parent Empowerment (COPE) neonatal intensive care unit program: a randomized, controlled trial. The group of parents who went through the program had better mental health outcomes compared to the control groups. The issue here and really is at the crux of the goal in writing all of this is that the stress that parents feel may not be overtly present. The squeaky wheel as the saying goes gets the grease and the parents that are demonstrating signs of poor coping are the first to draw the referrals to social work or engage in a deeper conversation with nursing at the bedside. All parents experience stress at least to a certain degree and it is all of our jobs to tease it out. On the other hand employing standardized approaches such as the COPE program for all parents might be another way of helping those who are in need but not clearly wearing a sign on their foreheads that say “help me”.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Reassurance
So we know that much of what we see on the monitors will not lead to long term harm, transient central cyanosis during feeds will not damage the brain and apnea of prematurity is a distinct entity from SIDS. The parents on the other hand commonly make these links and additionally in case no one has mentioned it to you, those babies with TTN may one day develop asthma and those with hypoglycemia may have diabetes (we know both not to be true but I have been asked about this many times). This is why I believe it is our duty to explain why we are not worried about things that come up in the unit. Saying “don’t worry” or “that is normal preterm behaviour” may not be enough. Ask a parent what it is they are worried about and you may be surprised to find out the links that they have made in their heads, some of which may be valid but some completely false. I am not meaning to trivialize their concerns but rather validate them as real worries. If we have the knowledge and it is power as I said before then shouldn’t we use that power to help reduce their stress?
Engaging Families Can Reap Huge Dividends
The movement towards family centred care and more specifically care by parent will have a dramatic impact on this issue. As more and more centres move to engaging families to be part of rounds and not just listen and then ask questions but to take some degree of control and provide some of the reporting stress will be reduced. It is only logical. The more a family comes to understand what is significant and what is not in terms of reporting concerns the more confident they will be. Moreover, spending more time at the bedside leads to more skin to skin care and with that shorter hospital stays due to better cardiorespiratory stability. We aren’t there yet but we are headed in the right direction. In the meantime, take the time to ask a simple question “what are you worried about” to parents no matter how confident and strong they appear and you may find yourself with an opportunity to harness the power of education you have a make a real difference to a family in need.
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?
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.