Free parking to increase parental visitation

Free parking to increase parental visitation

This is a title that I hope caught your eye.  In the nearly twenty years I have been in the field of Pediatrics the topic of parking being a barrier to parental visitation has come up again and again.  A few years ago the concern about the cost of parking was so great that I was asked if I could find a pool of donors to purchase parking passes to offset the burden to the family.  The theory of course is based on the idea that if parking were free in the NICU parents would visit more.  If parents visit more they will be more involved in the care of their baby, more likely to breastfeed and with both of these situations in play the infant should be discharged earlier than other infants whose parents don’t visit.  Try as I might it was a tough sell for donors who tend to prefer buying something more tangible that may bear their name or at least something they can look at and say “I bought that”.  This is quite tough when it comes to a parking stall and as such I am still looking for that elusive donor.  Having said that, is there any basis to believe that free parking is the solution that will deliver us from minimal visitation by some parents?

A Study May Help Answer The Question

Northrup TF et al published an article that was sent my way and to be honest I couldn’t wait to read it.  A free parking trial to increase visitation and improve extremely low birth weight infant outcomes. This is like the holy grail of studies.  A study that gets right to the point and attempts to answer the exact question I and others have been asking for some time.  The study took place in Houston, Texas and was set up as an RCT in which families were randomized into two groups.  Inclusion criteria were birth weight ⩽1000 g, age 7 to 14 days and deemed likely to survive.  Seventy two patients were enrolled in the free parking group while 66 were placed in the usual care.  Interestingly the power calculation determined that they would need 140 to show a difference so while 138 is close it wasn’t enough to truly show a difference but let’s see what they found.

The Results

Free parking made absolutely no difference for the whole group. Specifically there was no difference in the primary outcome of length of stay or hours spent per visit.  Some interesting information though that may not be that surprising was found to be of importance in the table below.  table-1

It may not seem like a surprise but the patients who were more affluent and those who had less children tended to visit more.  The latter makes a lot of sense as what are many people to do when they have one or more other children to care for at home especially in the face of little support?  Would free parking make one iota of difference if the barrier has nothing to do with the out of pocket cost?

The conclusion was that the strategy didn’t work that well but as you may have picked up I think the study was flawed.  By applying the strategy to all they were perhaps affected by choosing the wrong inclusion criteria.  Taken to an extreme, would a 50 million dollar Powerball winner care one bit about parking vouchers?  It wouldn’t make any difference to whether they were going to come or not.  Similarly a single mother with 5 other kids who lives below the poverty line and has little support is not going to come more frequently whether they have a voucher or not.

What if the study were redone?

I see a need to redo this study again but with different parameters.  What if you randomized people with a car or access to one who lived below a certain income level and had a committed support person who could assure that team that they could care for any other children the family had when called upon?  Or one could look at families with no other children and see if offering free parking led to more frequent visitation and then from there higher rates of Kangaroo Care and breastfeeding.  I for one haven’t given up on the idea and while I was truly excited to be sent this article and sadly initially dismayed on first read, I am hopeful that this story has not seen it’s end.

It is intuitive to me that for some parents parking is a barrier to visiting. Finding the right population to prove this though is the key to providing the evidence to arm our teams with evidence to gain support from hospital administrations.  Without it we truly face an uphill battle to get this type of support for families.  Stay tuned…

Micropreemie Lives Matter

Micropreemie Lives Matter

It seems the expression “(insert a group) lives matter” is present everywhere these days so I thought I would join in after a moving experience I had today.  For those of you who have been with the blog since the beginning you would have seen a number of posts that if you follow them in time, provide a glimpse into the transformation that Winnipeg has seen over the last year or so.

Prior to that point, 24 weeks was a cutoff for resuscitation that had been in place for some time and after a great amount of deliberation and thought was changed to 23 weeks.  This did not come without a great deal of angst and a tremendous amount of education and teamwork that our nurse educators and clinical leads were so instrumental in helping to role out.  The experience was outlined in a couple of posts that you may find interesting if you didn’t catch them the first time.  The first was Winnipeg hospital now resuscitating all infants at 22 weeks! A media led case of broken telephone. and the second being Winnipeg Hospital About to Start Resuscitating Infants at 23 weeks!

Since these two posts we have certainly had our fair share of experience as we have seen far more babies than anticipated but the region has met the challenge head on and although the numbers are small we appear to have not only more survivors than expected but all but one infant had gone home without O2 and all have been demand feeding at discharge.  While we await the 18 month outcomes, the results thus far appear reassuring.

A Special & Memorable Visit

Then today, a visit occurred from the first of such infants who is now just over a year of age.  He was bright eyed, smiling, interactive and by his parent’s account, has normal tone and assessments thus far by physiotherapy.  His presence in the NICU put smiles on faces and at least for myself made me think of the expression “Micropreemie Lives Matter”.  He was a baby that everyone predicted would not survive and then when he did, that he would be grossly developmentally impaired which he does not appear to be in the least.  His presence in the unit no doubt gives everyone who doubted the merits of moving down this path reason to pause.

Before you accuse me of wearing rose coloured glasses, make no mistake I know that he will not represent the outcome for everyone.  In fact at one of our hospitals two of such infants have died while we await the 18 month outcomes for the other survivors.  What his presence does though, is remind us or at least me that good outcomes are possible and in the case of our experience in Winnipeg may be more common that we thought they would be.

Black Swans and Human Nature

When I have spoken to audiences about the path forward when resuscitating such ELGANS I have often commented on the “Black Swan” effect.  blackswanThis was very nicely described by Nassim Taleb and described the human trait to react to unusual events with extreme reactions.  An example is no one wanting to fly in the months after the world trade centre bombing when statistically this may have been the safest period in history to fly.  Similarly, we as a team need to avoid the extreme reaction of saying that we should not be resuscitating such small infants when a bad outcome occurs.  As I have told many people, we know these patients will not all survive, we know a significant number will have adverse development yet not all will and at least in our small sample thus far the babies would appear to be doing better overall than anticipated.  If we know that bad outcomes will occur then why do we hear the questions come when they do such as “why are we doing this?”, “maybe we should rethink our position on 23 week infants”.  It happens because we care and we hate seeing families and their babies go through such painful experiences.  What we cannot do though for the sake of those such as our visitor today is react with a “Black Swan” reaction and steer the ship so to speak in the previous direction we were in.  There are survivors and they may do well and that is why I say “Micropreemie Lives Matter”.

In the paper by Rysavy the overall finding at 23 weeks was that 1 out of 6 would survive without moderate or severe disability.  What do we do as we increase our experience if the trend bears out that our outcomes are better?  How will we counsel families? Will we continue to use the statistics from the paper or quote our own despite us being a medium sized centre?

The Big Questions

As our experience with such infants increases we will also no doubt see a change in our thoughts about infants at 24 weeks.  I have seen this first hand already with a physician commenting today that 24 weeks is not such a big deal now!  This brings me to the big question (which I will credit a nurse I work with for planting in my head in the last two weeks) which is for another time to answer as this post gets a little lengthy but is something to ponder.  As our outcomes for 23 weeks improve and so do our results at 24 weeks (which is bound to happen with the more frequent team work in such situations) will our approach to infants at 24 weeks change.  In our institution we generally follow the CPS guidelines for the management of infants at extremely low GA and offer the choice of resuscitation at 24 weeks.  As outcomes improve at this GA will we continue to do so or will we reach a threshold where much like the case at 25 weeks we inform families that we will resuscitate their infant without providing the option of compassionate care?

It is too early to answer these questions conclusively but they are very deserving of some thought.  Lastly, I would like to thank the parent who came by today for inspiring me and to all those who will follow afterwards.

 

A Shocking Change in Position. Postnatal steroids for ALL microprems?

A Shocking Change in Position. Postnatal steroids for ALL microprems?

It seems like a sensational title I know but it may not be as far fetched as you may think. The pendulum certainly has swung from the days of liberal post natal dexamethasone use in the 1990s to the near banishment of them from the clinical armamentarium after Keith Barrington published an article entitled The adverse neuro-developmental effects of postnatal steroids in the preterm infant: a systematic review of RCTs in BMC Pediatrics in 2011. This article heralded in the steroid free epoch of the first decade of the new millennium, as anyone caring for preterm infants became fearful of causing lifelong harm from steroid exposure.  questionmarkALike any scare though, with time fear subsides and people begin asking questions such as; was it the type of steroid, the dose, the duration or the type of patient that put the child at risk of adverse development?  Moreover, when death from respiratory failure is the competing outcome it became difficult to look a parent in the eye when their child was dying and say “no there is nothing more we can do” when steroids were still out there.

Over the last decade or so, these questions in part have been studied in at least two important ways.  The first was to ask whether we use a lower dose of dexamethasone for a shorter period to improve pulmonary outcomes without adverse neurodevelopment?  The target population here were babies on their way to developing chronic lung disease as they were ventilated at a week of age.  The main study to answer this question was the DART study. This study used a very low total dose of 8.9 mg/kg of dexamethasone given over ten days.  While the study was stopped due to poor recruitment (it was surely difficult to recruit after the 2001 moratorium on steroids) they did show a benefit towards early extubation.  This was followed up at 2 years with no difference in neurodevelopmental outcomes.  Having said that the study was underpowered to detect any difference so while reassuring it did not prove lack of harm.  Given the lack of evidence showing absolute safety practitioners have continued to use post natal steroids judiciously.

The second strategy was to determine whether one could take a prophylactic approach by providing hydrocortisone to preterm infants starting within the first 24 hours to prevent the development of CLD.  The best study to examine this was by Kristi Watterberg in 2004 Prophylaxis of early adrenal insufficiency to prevent bronchopulmonary dysplasia: a multicenter trial.  Strangely enough the same issue of early stoppage affected this study as an increased rate of spontaneous gastrointestinal perforation was noted leading to early closure.  The most likely explanation is thought to be the combination of hydrocortisone and indomethacin prophylaxis which some centres were using at the same time. An interesting finding though was that in a subgroup analysis, infants with chorioamnionitis who received hydrocortisone had less incidence of chronic lung disease. (more on this later) Although this of course is subject to the possible bias of digging too deep with secondary analyses there is biologic plausibility here as hydrocortisone could indeed reduce the inflammatory cascade that would no doubt be present with such infants exposed to chorioamnionitis in utero.

Has the answer finally come?

The DART study at 360 patients was the largest study to date to look at prophylaxis as a strategy.  That is until this past week.  The results of the PREMILOC study have been published which is the long awaited trial examining a total dose of 8.5 mg/kg of hydrocortisone over 10 days.  We can finally see the results of a trial without the complicating prophylactic indomethacin trials interfering with results.  Surprisingly this study was also stopped early (a curse of such trials?!) due to financial reasons this time. Prior to stoppage though they managed to recruit 255 to hydrocortisone and 266 to control groups.  All infants in this study were started on hydrocortisone within 24 hours of age and the primary outcome in this case was survival without BPD at 36 weeks of age.

All infants were less than 28 weeks at birth and therefore had a high risk of the combined outcome and despite the study being stopped early there was indeed a better outcome rate in the hydrocortisone group (60% vs 51%).  Another way of looking at this is that to gain one more patient who survived without BPD you needed to treat 12 which is not bad at all. What is additionally interesting are some of the findings in the secondary analyses.

figure 1

The lack of a difference in males may well reflect the biologic disadvantage that us males face overcoming any benefit from the hydrocortisone.  In fact for the females studied the number needed to treat improves to 6 patients only! Short term outcomes of less ventilation are sure to please everyone especially parents.  Lastly, a reduction in PDA ligation is most probably related to an antiprostaglandin effect of steroids and should be cause for joy all around.  Lastly, a tip of the hat to Dr. Watterberg is in order as those infants who were exposed to chorioamnionitis once again show that this is where the real benefit may be.

But what about side effects?

Figure 2

The rate of NEC is quite high but is so for both groups but otherwise there is nothing much here to worry the reader.  Once and for all we also see that by excluding concurrent treatment with indomethacin or ibuprofen the rate of GI perforation is no different this time around.  Reassuring results indeed, but alas the big side effect, the one that would tip the scale towards us using or abandoning treatment has yet to be presented.  Steroids no doubt can do great things but given the scare from 2001 we will need to see how this cohort of babies fares in the long run.

The follow-up is planned for these infants and the authors have done an incredible job of recruiting enough patients to make the results likely believable.  I for one can’t wait to see what the future holds. If I was a betting man though I would say this ultra low dose of hydrocortisone may be just the thing to bring this therapy finally into the toolbox of neonatal units worldwide.  We have been looking for the next big thing to help improve outcomes and good old hydrocortisone may be just what the doctor ordered.

 

Breastfeeding…who says it’s not natural?!

Breastfeeding…who says it’s not natural?!

I woke up this morning and as I do everyday, scanned the media outlets for news that would be of interest to you the reader.  One such article today was about how breast milk may give babies a metabolic boost due to micro RNA present in the milk. This got me thinking about how natural a thing this breast milk is and how substances within interact with the baby receiving it.  After that point I recalled writing about a challenge to the statement that breast milk is natural and thought you might like to see what I considered to be an outrageous piece of journalism from last year.

Are there unintended consequences to calling breast-feeding ‘natural’?

The premise of the article is that by reinforcing that breastfeeding is natural we may hamper initiatives to increase vaccination in many parts of the world and in particular North America I would think.  The idea here is that if we firmly entrench in women’s heads that natural is better then this will strengthen the conviction that we should not vaccinate with these “man made” unnatural vaccines.  I am sorry to be dramatic about this but I think the argument is ridiculous and in fact dangerous.

The Definition of Natural

“existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature”

From the Mirriam Webster dictionary

Breastfeeding satisfies this definition pure and simple and there is nothing that anyone should say to suggest otherwise no matter what the motive is.  The shift from formula  to breastfeeding has been predicated on this notion and a plethora of literature on the subject demonstrating reductions in such things as infections of many kinds, diarrhoea, atopic disease in the first year of life as examples.  In my world of premature infants additional reductions in NEC, bloody stools, have been seen and more recently in some cases improved neurodevelopmental outcomes.

In this case of irresponsible journalism a better approach if you were wanting to use the natural argument with respect to vaccines is to promote just that.

Vaccines are Natural

Someone will no doubt challenge me on this  point as it would be a fair comment to say that there are artificial substances added to vaccines but there is no question the organisms that we vaccinate against are natural.

Think about this for a moment.  All of the vaccines out there are meant to protect us against organisms that exists in NATURE.  These are all bacteria or viruses that have likely existed on this planet of ours for millions of years.  They are found everywhere and in many cases what we are doing when we give such vaccines are providing parts of or weakened versions of these natural organisms in order for us the human to mount a protective response.

This protective response is NATURAL.  If we didn’t vaccinate and came across the fully virulent pathogen in NATURE our bodies would do exactly what they do when a vaccine is given to us.  Our immune system would mount a response to the organism and start producing protective antibodies.  Unfortunately in many cases this will be too little too late as the bacteria or virus will cause it’s damage before we have a chance to rid ourselves of this natural organism.

This is the basis of vaccination.  Allow our bodies a chance to have protection against an organism that we haven’t been exposed to yet so that when it comes we have a legion of antibodies just waiting to attach this natural organism.

CNN Didn’t Get It Right

cnn1

In the article which is based on a paper entitled the Unintended Consequences of Invoking the “Natural” in Breastfeeding Promotion by Jessica Martucci &  Anne Barnhill the authors admit that the number of families that this actually would impact is small.  the question then is why publish this at all.  Steering families away from thinking that breastfeeding is natural is wrong.  Plain and simple.

If the goal is to improve vaccination rates, focus on informing the public about how NATURAL vaccinations actually are and don’t drag breastfeeding down in order to achieve such goals.  As a someone who writes themselves I am well aware of how personal biases creep into everything we write.  I am aware of the irony of that statement since it is clear what side of the argument I sit on.  While I peruse CNN myself almost daily I think the editors either missed the larger message in this piece or perhaps felt the same way.  A disclosure that “the opinions of the author do not necessarily represent those of the network” does not cut it for what I would consider responsible journalism in this case.

 

The Holy Grail in NICU

The Holy Grail in NICU

The journey from conception to the labour floor and then for some to the NICU is not a straight one.  There are times of joy, interspersed with sadness, denial, anger and eventually acceptance, as initial news of being pregnant leads to complications in pregnancy and then eventual admission of an infant to the NICU.

Much has been said in recent years about the building of partnerships with parents and in fact there is a new catchphrase attached to the concept “shared decision making” (SDM).  There is no question that in the perfect world this is exactly the relationship that we should be striving for with all of our patients.  The world however is not perfect and although this may not be the most popular opinion I have given, I question how applicable this really is in many situations.

A Reality Check

Take for instance the parents who present to the labour floor of their local hospital in advanced labour at 24 weeks.  Proponents of this SDM model would suggest that a meeting take place and pertinent information be given to a family and together with the assistance of literature applicable to their situation (possibly a pamphlet) the health care providers and families come to a mutually agreeable decision as to what the best course of action is for them and their unborn infant.  This all sounds wonderful but examining the real life situation a little more closely is it actually reasonable to assume we can obtain this?  I have not been, nor will I ever be pregnant and certainly have never experienced contractions and felt the veil clouding my vision as the first dose of analgesia enters my veins to deal with the discomfort a woman experiences during labour.  Not to mention there are people admitting this couple, taking histories, establishing IV access, scanning bellies and a whole host of other pokes and prods along the way.

My Role Better Defined

Then I come in.  Among all this chaos I deliver the information, pass along a pamphlet and do the best job I can to inform said couple of the upcoming decision.  The trouble of course is how do we come to this mutual decision in the 15 – 30 minutes I spend with them during this crisis?  The answer sadly is we do our best but don’t for a minute think that SDM has occurred.  I don’t believe this is possible unless the family has prior experience with a preterm birth or perhaps is a HCP working with newborns or children with disabilities themselves.  In fact Boss RD et al in their own research on the subject identified that in hindsight religion, spirituality and hope are what motivated parents rather than what was said at the time.  In essence their minds are already made up.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for the SDM but at least in my opinion, unless their contractions settle, a calmness ensues, they have time to digest the information being given and then meet again under less stressful circumstances, the SDM is a nice idea but for many not a reality.

Shifting To The NICU

I recall a significant moment in my training when I saw how the SDM model can actually cause more grief than help.  Dr. Keith Barrington a fellow blogger (if you haven’t discovered him, his work is fascinating over at Neonatal Research) published one of the most impactful pieces of research of the decade during my fellowship.  The adverse neuro-developmental effects of postnatal steroids in the preterm infant: a systematic review of RCTs. Following this analysis there was a near moratorium on the use of post natal steroids.  The issue this created was that to now receive them you had to be close to the end of the limits of care.  At this point you either died (thereby concluding they are of no help) or you survived with disability that was due in part no doubt to how sick you had become (thereby concluding they are dangerous).

The moment I am referring to was a conversation with a family in which the attending managing the unit presented the risks and benefits of postnatal steroids to the family when the FiO2 was at 40% one day.  The language used was non directive and the parents asked for another day to decide. The next day and each of the following two days they were unable to choose between giving the steroids and the perceived risk of brain damage versus not and watching the FiO2 climb by about 10% per day.  By the time the FiO2 several days later was at 80-90% they were distraught, teary and feeling helpless.  What they needed was direction; someone to give them some advice or more simply an educated opinion.

We can strive to share in the decision making but I continue to believe there is a time and place to help our families by taking a stance or side.  We can equip them with as much information as we want but is there really any replacement for actually taking care of these infants, experiencing the ups and downs and hearing how they have done in follow-up? We simply can’t expect the average parent to understand the true long term consequences of their decisions.  one-size-does-not-fit-allI am not saying we go back to a paternalistic time in medicine but I am saying that one size does not fit all.

We owe it to our families to pursue SDM when we can but we have an equal obligation to recognize when this ideal state is simply not possible.  At this point we have to use the experiences and knowledge we have to provide them with the best advice we can.  We have gone through medical training, and gone down these paths so many times.  We can avoid biased opinion and rely on the facts as they are in our institutions but to not take a stand when it is needed at least for me is doing a disservice to those we are so eager to help.