It is hard to believe that I gave birth as it were to All Things Neonatal in February of 2015. After 170 published posts and so many wonderful experiences it was time for a change. I have moved the entire blog over to this new location which allows me a great deal more control over the look and feel of the site. It has been a great journey and I have gained many friends along the way. These experiences and interactions with parents, nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, dieticians and many others have let to a tremendous amount of shared knowledge and I hope that you the reader are better for it. I am also pleased to say that the blogging and other social media venues have taken me far beyond the borders of Manitoba and allowed me to learn from others as well. As you take a look around the site you will notice there are some changes to the layout and the overall look that I hope you like. I also hope that the next 170 blog posts are as interesting to you as the first batch.
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When I think back to my early days as a medical student, one of the first lessons on the physical exam involves checking central and peripheral perfusion as part of the cardiac exam. In the newborn to assess the hemodynamic status I have often taught that while the blood pressure is a nice number to have it is important to remember that it is a number that is the product of two important factors; resistance and flow. It is possible then that a newborn with a low blood pressure could have good flow but poor vascular tone (warm shock) or poor flow and increased vascular tone (cardiogenic shock or hypovolemia). Similarly, the baby with good perfusion could be in septic shock and be vasodilated with good flow. In other words the use of capillary and blood pressure may not tell you what you really want to know.
Is there a better way?
As I have written about previously, point of care ultrasound is on the rise in Neonatology. As more trainees are being taught the skill and equipment more readily available opportunities abound for testing various hypotheses about the benefit of such technology. In addition to my role as a clinical Neonatologist I am also the Medical Director of the Child Health Transport Team and have pondered about a future where ultrasound is taken on retrievals to enhance patient assessment. I was delighted therefore to see a small but interesting study published on this very topic this past month. Browning Carmo KB and colleagues shared their experience in retrieving 44 infants in their paper Feasibility and utility of portable ultrasound during retrieval of sick preterm infants. The study amounted to a proof of concept and took 7 years to complete in large part due to the rare availability of staff who were trained in ultrasound to retrieve patients. These were mostly small higher risk patients (median birthweight, 1130 g (680–1960 g) and median gestation, 27 weeks (23–30)). Availability of a laptop based ultrasound device made this study possible now that there are nearly palm sized and tablet based ultrasound units this study would be even more feasible now (sometimes they were unable to send a three person team due to weight reasons when factoring in the ultrasound equipment). Without going into great detail the measurements included cardiac (structural and hemodynamic) & head ultrasounds. Bringing things full circle it is the hemodynamic assessment that I found the most interesting.
Can we rely on capillary refill?
From previous work normal values for SVC flow are >50 ml/kg/min and for Right ventricular output > 150 ml/kg/min. These thresholds if not met have been correlated with adverse long term outcomes and in the short term need for inotropic support. In the absence of these ultrasound measurements one would use capillary refill and blood pressure to determine the clinical status but how accurate is it?
First of all out of the 44 patients retrieved, assessment in the field demonstrated 27 (61%) had evidence using these parameters of low systemic blood flow. After admission to the NICU 8 had persistent low systemic blood flow with the patients shown below in the table. The striking finding (at least to me) is that 6 out of 8 had capillary refill times < 2 seconds. With respect to blood pressure 5/8 had mean blood pressures that would be considered normal or even elevated despite clearly compromised systemic blood flow. To answer the question I have posed in this section I think the answer is that capillary refill and I would also add blood pressure are not telling you the whole story. I suspect in these patients the numbers were masking the true status of the patient.
How safe is transport?
One other aspect of the study which I hope would provide some relief to those of us who transport patients long distance is that the head ultrasound findings before and after transport were unchanged. Transport with all of it’s movement to and fro and vibrations would not seem to put babies at risk of intracranial bleeding.
Where do we go from here?
Before we all jump on the bandwagon and spend a great deal of money buying such equipment it needs to be said “larger studies are needed” looking at such things as IVH. Although it is reassuring that patients with IVH did not have extension of such bleeding after transport, it needs to be recognized that with such a small study I am not comfortable saying that the case is closed. What I am concerned about though is the lack of correlation between SVC and RVO measurements and the findings we have used for ages to estimate hemodynamic status in patients.
There will be those who resist such change as it does require effort to acquire a new set of skills. I do see this happening though as we move forward if we want to have the most accurate assessment of clinical status in our patients. As equipment with high resolution becomes increasingly available at lower price points, how long can we afford not to adapt?
It is hard to be a Neonatologist who took the path through Pediatrics first and not use a Dr. Seuss quote from time to time. If your unit is anything like ours where you work I imagine you feel as if you are bursting at the seams. As the population grows so do our patient volumes. I often quote the number 10% as being the number of patients we see out of all deliveries each year in our units. When I am asked why our numbers are so high I counter that the answer is simple. For every extra 100 births we get 10 admissions. It is easy though to get lost in the chaos of managing a unit in such busy times and not take a moment to look back and see how far we have come. What did life look like 30 years ago or 25 years ago? In Winnipeg, we are preparing to make a big move into a beautiful new facility in 2018. This will see us unify three units into one which is no easy task but will mean a capacity of 60 beds compared to the 55 operational beds we have at the moment.
In 2017 we are routinely resuscitating infants as young as 23 weeks and now with weights under 500g at times. Whereas in the past anyone under 1000g was considered quite high risk, now the anticipated survival for a 28 week infant at 1000g is at or above 95%. Even in my short career which began in 1998 in terms of Pediatrics and then 2001 in Neonatology our approach in terms of comfort with the smallest infants has eased greatly. What inspired this post though was a series of newspaper clippings from 1986 and 1991 that made me take a moment to look up at the sky and mutter “huh”. When you take a trip down memory lane and read these posts I think you will agree we have come a LONG way and (in truth) in a very short time.
1986 – Opening of the New NICU at Children’s Hospital
This unit was built with 3.5 million dollars. Imagine how far that would go now…
The unit had a capacity of 18 beds but opened with only 12 and a nursing staff of 60 (compare that to 150 now!). They couldn’t open more beds due to the lack of available nurses with sufficient skills.
My favourite comment to provide some perspective was that 5 to 10 years before this time the estimated survival for infants under 1000g was 15%!
Have we ever come a long way in family centred care. Can you imagine having a baby born now at 695g whose family wouldn’t get to hold them till almost 3.5 months of age?! That is what happened in the case described in this article.
1991 – Opening of the new Intermediate Care Nursery
Did you know the old unit had 19 beds (was originally 9 babies) and expanded to 27 at this time?
It cost 3.1 million to build this unit.
The long and the short of it is that yes things are busy and in fact busier than they have ever been. Do not lose sight however wherever your practice is that you are part of a story for the ages. Things that were once thought impossible or miracles are now everyday events and you have been part of it. For those of you who read this post this will likely bring about a lot of nostalgia for you. Thirty years in medicine is not a long time and we have accomplished so much along the way. For those of you who are just starting out, imagine where we will be in 30 years from now. I for one can’t wait to read about it and wonder where we will have gone by then.
Things aren’t the way they used to be. When I was training, opportunities abounded for opportunities to intubate infants. Then we did away with intubating vigourous infants born through meconium and now won’t be electively intubating them at all. Then you can add in the move towards use of non-invasive respiratory support instead of intubating and giving surfactant and voila…you have the perfect barrier for training residents and others how to intubate. On top of all of this the competition for learning has increased as the skill that was once the domain of the physician has now spread (quite rightly) to respiratory therapists, nurses in some places and with the growth of residency programs (ours is now 2.5X larger than when I trained) the scarce chances are divided among many.
Enter the Video Laryngoscope
To be clear this isn’t a post to promote a product but rather an examination of the effectiveness of a tool. I am putting this out there recognizing the possibility that someone out there might have heard of or have been contemplating purchasing one of these items. Those that are quite proficient at intubation (likely trained in the “good old days”) would likely question the need for such a device but I believe the device isn’t really aimed at that group except to use perhaps as a teaching tool. It really is targeted (at least I think) for those who don’t perform the skill often.
Does use of the video laryngoscope improve success rates at intubation?
This question has had an attempt now at being answered by Parmekar S et al in their paper Mind the gap: can videolaryngoscopy bridge the competency gap in neonatal endotracheal intubation among pediatric trainees? a randomized controlled study. The study involved taking 100 pediatric residents and randomizing them into two groups. The first would use the videolaryngoscope (VL group) and then intubate using the standard technique of direct laryngoscopy (DL group). The second group started with DL and then changed to VL. Both groups took part in a training session on intubation and then participated in three simulation scenarios from NRP. The findings demonstrated a couple interesting things. The first as shown in the graph was that the group that started with the laryngoscope had a near 90% success rate compared to about 60% for the traditional approach. When the groups swapped though they were both equal in effectiveness. This suggests that by visualizing the airway with the VL students were able to identify structures better after doing so such that success was improved simply by having used the device.
The other finding worth mentioning was that when the times to intubation were looked at, there was no difference between the two groups at all. If the intubation success is no different, why might the times be the same? Having used the video laryngoscope myself it does take some getting used to. Rather than looking directly at the airway you find yourself looking off to the side and adjusting the approach that is in front of you to place the ETT. No doubt this does take some getting used to.
What I would have liked to see is a repeat assessment a week later after using a few more trials with the VL as I suspect once you are used to it the speed of intubation would improve as well. I suppose though we will have to wait a little while until someone does such work but as a means of improving success in intubation I believe this tool has something to add.