As with many things in Neonatology, changes in practice come and go. Such is the case with how best to manage an IV. During my career I have seen advocates for both continuous infusions and intermittent flushing. Sometimes with heparin and at other times none. The issue at hand is how best to preserve the precious IV. Based on opinion only I would have said that having a continuous flow through a plastic catheter should help avoid clot formation and prolong the life of an IV but what is the actual evidence to support one method or the other.
Why might flushing be better?
Clotting may not be the biggest issue to contend with. When I think about the IVs that are “lost” I am more commonly approached by nurses with concerns that the site is looking “red” and ultimately becomes indurated as the catheter extravasates. Far less common, is a concern that the catheter has simply obstructed or is reading high resistance these days. While we flush IVs with isotonic saline, infusions of dextrose are both hypotonic and acidic which may lead to endothelial damage. In theory then phlebitis should be lessened with intermittent flushes but could blockage due to clots still be an issue if there is no flow at the tip and lumen of the catheter?
A more recent paper by Stok and Wieringa adds to this discussion by looking exclusively at the use for durations of antibiotics (Continuous infusion versus intermittent flushing: maintaining peripheral intravenous access in newborn infants). As with the previous study this was an observational cohort in which a shift in practice occurred from use of continuous 5% dextrose infusions to flushing six times per day with NS through a 24 gauge IV. The primary outcome was duration of catheter patency but several other important outcomes were followed as well in particular the time required by nursing to deal with IV issues.
A total of 115 newborns were recruited with 98 completing the analysis after excluding some patients. Of these newborns 71 fell into the continuous infusion vs 62 cannulas in the flushing cohort. Interestingly the main outcome was found to be no different between groups (55.42 hrs flushing vs 57.48 hrs continuous) regardless of placement site. Also interesting is that the median number of cannula placements were no different as well.
With respect to complications the results indicate that this is more of an issue with continuous infusions and is shown in the table below. The differences in complication rates were significant between the two groups. Consistent with endothelial damage being more common from dextrose infusions, the incidence of phlebitis and infiltration were both higher in the continuous group. Arguably this was not a blinded study so the diagnosis of phlebitis could be subject to bias but infiltration should have been more objective.
The amount of time nursing spent addressing IV related activities was significantly shorter with 8.8 minutes per shift vs 5.5 minutes in the continuous vs flushing groups respectively. Statistically significant but perhaps not that clinically relevant. Then again the extra three minutes of aggravation might be quite significant!
Finally, it may be surprising that the length of IV patency was no different between the groups but the majority of the IVs were utilized for less than 48 hours so one can only speculate what would have happened if a different target population was looked at such as babies being treated with peripheral IVs for 7 days of antibiotics as an example. Given the differing rates of complications I would think that with longer use a difference in mean durations of patency would in fact present itself.
What does the future hold?
This is hard to say. Opinions run strong on this topic with most members of the medical team favouring continuous infusions as they “don’t want to lose the IV”. I suspect the way to truly look at this will not be through a randomized trial but rather a quality project in which a formal PDSA cycle is utilized to first collect our own numbers and then implement a formal change to using flushing only for those who only have an IV for antibiotics. Certainly something to discuss with our group and perhaps your own. If you have already done such a project and wish to share the results I would love to hear from you though!
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?
These were the words spoken to me when I was a medical student doing an elective rotation in maternal fetal medicine at Mt. Sinai hospital in Toronto in 1997. Setting aside your surprise that I once wanted to be an Obstetrician (yes it’s true), I should put in context the situation that I heard this career changing advice. The service I was on was intense. Intense in the sense that some of the attendings were quite demanding and in their endless pursuit of excellence in care demanded a great deal from the medical students, residents and fellows around them. While I don’t remember the name of the fellow I was working with any longer, I do recall the verbal abuse she took on a daily basis likely from some misguided notion that since the attending had to endure such humiliation during training others should have to experience such joy themselves. After one such encounter, I had the opportunity to go for a coffee with my fellow and I took the opportunity to learn her coping mechanisms.
“Kill Them With Kindness”
You see this was no ordinary fellow. No matter how much verbal abuse was hurled her way she smiled at the attending and asked what she could do to resolve whatever shortcoming was pointed out to her. She never seemed upset (although on the inside I can’t imagine how she couldn’t) but kept her composure. When I asked her how she endured the daily grind all she said were those four words. I was very curious about this strategy. It seemed to me that she was enabling such behaviour and quite honestly in this era of medicine I have my doubts that the attending could get away with it. Having said that while it might not be so dramatic these days, it does happen but to a lesser degree. She explained to me that she believed that when you are consistently nice to someone even in the face of aggression they have no choice but to settle down. As she put it, staying angry in the face of someone who is smiling and thanking you sincerely for your input is difficult even for the most aggressive types. I suppose it is similar to a someone who is teasing you, stopping when they see they can’t get a rise out of you. I really took what she said to heart and built my career around this principle.
The Power of the Word Please
A funny thing happened today which really is what triggered this memory for me. One of our nurses chose to write a verbal order for me. She started the verbal order off with “please”. When I saw the start of the order I laughed and said that is the way I would have written it and she told me she knew as that is how I usually start my orders! It is sincere and not meant to be a trick but I think I owe it in part to that fellow from many years ago who taught me to “kill them with kindness”. My use of the word please which I realize now I use more often than not might seem odd but I think it sends a message of respect. An order should be followed but perhaps the word please is a way of saying “I realize you are busy but if you could do this I would appreciate it!” In the end we are a team and putting a little niceness into our daily routine can go a long way.
No Place For Rudeness
In a RCT designed to measure the impact of rudeness, medical teams were given a case to manage in a simulation exercise. The case was of a preterm infant now 23 days old with symptoms of NEC. Half the group met with a visitor who claimed to have observed such teams in their country before and in the rude environment made a disparaging comment about the past performance of the other teams. In the other group he simply mentioned he had observed other teams without commenting about their lack of skill. Simply planting the seed that previous performance of a similar team had been poor had damaging effects on team performance as shown below. Each item was rated from 1 = fail to 5 = excellent.
As you can see on many domains, team performance was impacted and in a significant way. Imagine how powerful more overt rudeness can be and damaging to the confidence and performance of the trainees and teams around you!
Let’s Get It Right
It’s July and that means there is a new crop of residents and fellows starting their journey towards becoming independent practitioners. This isn’t simulation anymore, this is the big leagues and they are working on real patients at risk of real adverse outcomes. Imagine if you will if the performance in the simulation above translated into poor performance in the hospital! We do our best to teach these “green” trainees the right way to do things but no amount of information will do them any good if we kill their confidence. Life as a new trainee is stressful enough. Can’t we all do a little to make things just a bit easier?
Yes it can be frustrating when they miss something important and yes that can have a consequence to patient care but if we want to minimize the greater risk to the patient population couldn’t we all do a little more to “Kill them with kindness” and say “please” from time to time?
After the recent CPS meeting I had a chance to meet with an Obstetrical colleague and old friend in Nova Scotia. It is easy to get lost in the beauty of the surroundings which we did. Hard to think about Neonatology when visits to places like Peggy’s Cove are possible. Given out mutual interest though in newborns our our conversation eventually meandered along the subject of the new NRP. What impact would the new recommendations with respect to meconium have on the requirements for providers at a delivery. This question gave me reason to pause as I work in a level III centre and with that lens tend to have a very different perspective than those who work in level I and II centres (I know we don’t label them as such anymore but for many of you that has some meaning). Every delivery that is deemed high risk in our tertiary centre has ready access to those who can intubate so the changes in recommendations don’t really affect our staffing to any great degree. What if you are in a centre where the Pediatrician needs to be called in from home? Do you still have to call in people to prepare for a pending delivery of a baby through meconium stained fluid?
What does the new recommendation actually say?
These recommendations are from the American Heart Association and are being adopted by the NRP committees in the US and Canada. The roll-out for this change is coming this fall with all courses required to teach the new requirements as of September 2017.
“However, if the infant born through meconium-stained amniotic fluid presents with poor muscle tone and inadequate breathing efforts, the initial steps of resuscitation should be completed under the radiant warmer. PPV should be initiated if the infant is not breathing or the heart rate is less than 100/min after the initial steps are completed. Routine intubation for tracheal suction in this setting is not suggested, because there is insufficient evidence to continue recommending this practice. (Class IIb, LOE C-LD)“
The rationale for the change is that is that there is a lack of evidence to demonstrate that routine suctioning will reduce the incidence of meconium aspiration syndrome and its consequences. Rather priority is placed on the establishment of adequate FRC and ventilation thereby placing a priority on teaching of proper bag-valve mask or t-piece resuscitator. Better to establish ventilation than delay while atempting to intubate and run the risk of further hypoxia and hypercarbia causing pulmonary hypertension.
Does this mean you don’t need to have a person skilled in intubation at such deliveries?
This question is the real reason for the post. At least from my standpoint the answer is that you do in fact still require such people. This may seem to be in conflict with the new position but if you move past that recommendation above you will see there is another line that follows afterwards that is the basis for my argument.
“Appropriate intervention to support ventilation and oxygenation should be initiated as indicated for each individual infant. This may include intubation and suction if the airway is obstructed.”
While we should not routinely perform such intubations there may be a time and a place. If one has intiated PPV with a mask and is not obtaining a rising heart rate, MRSOPA should be followed and attempts made to optimize ventilation. What if that is unsuccessful though and heart rate continues to be poor. You could have a plug of meconium distal to the vocal cords and this is the reason that intubation should be considered. In order to remove such a plug one would need to have an intubator present.
Where do we go from here?
As much as I would like to tell my colleague that he doesn’t need to have this skill set at a delivery for meconium I am afraid the skill still needs to be present. It will be interesting to see how instructors roll this out and answer such questions. It is a little concerning to me that in our world of wanting the “skinny” or “Coles’ Notes” version of things, the possibility of still needing the intubator on short notice may be lost. Having someone on call who is only “5 minutes away” may seem to be alright but at 3 AM I assure you the 5 minutes will become 15 as the person is woken, dresses, gets to the car and parks. Whether it is 5 or 15 minutes each centre needs to ask themselves if the baby is in need of urgent intubation are you willing to wait that amount of time for that to happen?
Breast milk has many benefits and seems to be in the health care news feeds almost daily. As the evidence mounts for long term effects of the infant microbiome, more and more centres are insisting on providing human milk to their smallest infants. Such provision significantly reduces the incidence of NEC, mortality and length of stay. There is a trade-off though in that donor milk after processing loses some of it’s benefits in terms of nutritional density. One such study demonstrated nutritional insufficiencies with 79% having a fat content < 4 g/dL, 56% having protein content< 1.5 g/dL, and 67% having an energy density < 67 kcal/dL (< 20 Kcal/oz). It is for this reason that at least in our unit many infants on donor milk ultimately receive a combination of high fluid volumes, added beneprotein or cow’s milk powders to achieve adequate caloric intake. Without such additions, growth failure ensues. Such growth failure is not without consequence and will be the topic of a future post. One significant concern however is that failure of our VLBW infants to grow will no doubt impact the timing of discharge as at least in our unit, babies less than 1700g are unlikely to be discharged. With the seemingly endless stream of babies banging on the doors of the NICU to occupy a bed, any practice that leads to increasing lengths of stay will no doubt slow discharge and cause a swelling daily patient census.
What if increasing volume was not an option?
Such might be the case with a baby diagnosed with BPD. Medical teams are often reluctant to increase volumes in these patients due to concerns of water retention increasing respiratory support and severity of the condition. While diuretics have not been shown to be of long term benefit to BPD they continue to be used at times perhaps due to old habits or anecdotal experiences by team members of a baby who seemed to benefit. Such use though is not without it’s complications as the need to monitor electrolytes means more needle sticks for these infants subjecting them to painful procedures that they truly don’t need. Alternatively, another approach is to restrict fluids but this may lead to hunger or create little room to add enough nutrition again potentially compromising the long term health of such infants.
This paper is essentially a study within a study. Infants taking part in an RCT of Prolacta cream (Prolacta being the subject of a previous post) were randomized as well to a cream supplement vs no cream. The cream had a caloric density of 2.5 Kcal/mL and was added to donor milk or mother’s own milk when the measured caloric density was less than 19 Kcal/oz. The study was small (75 patients; control 37, cream 38) which should be stated upfront and as it was a secondary analysis of the parent study was not powered to detect a difference in length of stay but that was what was reported here. The results for the groups overall were demonstrated an impact in length of stay and discharge with the results shown below.
PDA ligation %
PDA treated medically %
Length of stay, days
PMA at discharge, weeks
What about those with sensitivity to fluid?
Before we go into that let me state clearly that this group comparison is REALLY SMALL (control with BPD=12 vs cream with BPD=9). The results though are interesting.
BPD control (N=12)
BPD cream N=9
Length of stay, days
PMA at discharge, weeks
So they did not reach statistical significance yet one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the study had been larger or better yet the study was a prospective RCT examining the use of cream as a main outcome. That of course is what no doubt will come with time. I can’t help but think though that the results have biologic plausibility. Providing better nutrition should lead to better growth, enhanced tissue repair and with it earlier readiness for discharge.
One interesting point here is that the method that was used to calculate the caloric density of milk was found to overestimate the density by an average of 1.2 Kcal/oz when the method was compared to a gold standard. Given that fortification with cream was only to be used if the caloric density of the milk fell below 19 Kcal/oz where average milk caloric density is 20 Kcal/oz there is the distinct possibility that the eligible infants for cream were underestimated. Could some of the BPD be attributable to infants being significantly undernourished in the control group as they actually were receiving <19 Kcal/oz but not fortified? Could the added fortification have led to faster recovery from BPD?
Interesting question’s in need of answers. I look forward to seeing where this goes. I suspect that donor milk is not enough, adding a little cream may be needed for some infants especially those who have trouble tolerating cow’s milk fortification.
To many of you the answer is a resounding yes in that it reduces stress. Why is that though? Is it because you have had a personal experience that has been favourable, it is the practice in your unit or it just seems to make sense? It might come as a surprise to you who have followed this blog for some time that I would even ask the question but a social media friend of mine Stefan Johansson who runs 99NICU sent an article my way on this topic. Having participated in the FiCare study I realised that I have a bias in this area but was intrigued by the title of the paper. The study is Parental presence on neonatal intensive care unit clinical bedside rounds: randomised trial and focus group discussion by Abdel-Latif ME et al from New Zealand and was performed due to the lack of any RCTs on the subject specifically in the NICU.
Before I go on though I have to disclose a few biases.
I love parents being on rounds so I can speak with them directly and have them ask me any questions they may have after hearing about their infants condition.
Our unit encourages the practice.
We are rolling out the principles of FiCare after being part of the study which encourages parental presence at the bedside for far more than just rounds.For information on implementing FiCare click here
While this study is the only reported RCT on the subject in the NICU, the FiCare results will be published before long.
What is the problem with having families on rounds?
The detractors would say that sensitive information may be more difficult to discuss out in the open for fear that the family will take offence or be hurt. Another concern may be that teaching will be affected as the attending may not want to discuss certain aspects of care in order to prevent creating fear in the parents or awkwardness in the event that the management overnight was not what they would have done. Lastly, when patient volumes and acuity are high, having parents ask questions on rounds may lead to excessive duration of this process and lead to fatigue and frustration by all members of the team.
So what does this study add?
This particular study enrolled 72 families of which 63 completed the study. The study required 60 families to have enough power to detect the difference in having parents on rounds or not.The design was interesting in that the randomisation was a cross over design in which the following applied. One arm was having parents on rounds and the other without. The unit standard at the time was to not have parents on rounds.
≤30 weeks 1 week in one arm, one week washout period then one week in the other arm
>30 weeks 3 days in one arm, three day washout and then three days in the other arm
The primary outcome was to see if there would be a significant difference in the Parental Stressor Scale.
Surprisingly there was no difference across any domains of measuring parental stress. When we look at questions though pertaining to communication in the NICU we see some striking differences.
The families see many benefits to the model of being on rounds. They appear to have received more information, more contact with the team, contributed more to the planning of the course of their babies care and been able to ask more questions. All of these things would seem to achieve the goals of having parents on rounds.
So why aren’t parents less stressed?
This to me is the most interesting part of this post. The short answer is I am not sure but I have a few ideas.
The study could not be blinded. If the standard of care in the unit was to not have parents on rounds, what kind of conversations happened after rounds? Were staff supportive of the families or were they using language that had a glass is half empty feel to it? Much like I am biased towards having parents on rounds and thanking them for their participation were there any negative comments that may have been unintentional thrown the families way.
Is a little knowledge a dangerous thing? Perhaps as families learn more details about the care of their baby it gives them more things to worry about. Could the increase in knowledge while in some ways being pleasing to the family be offset by the concern that new questions raise.
Was the intervention simply too short to detect a difference? This may have been a very important contributor. This short period of either a week or two leaves the study open to a significant risk that an event in either week could acutely increase stress levels. What if the infant had to go back on a ventilator after failing CPAP, needed to be reloaded with caffeine or developed NEC? With such short intervals one cannot say that while communication was better the parents were not stressed due to something unrelated to communication. In an RCT these should balance out but in such a small study I see this as a significant risk.
So where do we go from here?
I applaud the authors for trying to objectively determine the effect of parental presence on rounds in the NICU. Although I think they did an admirable job I believe the longer time frame of the FiCare study and the cluster randomised strategy using many Canadian centres will prove to be the better model to determine effectiveness. What the study does highlight though in a very positive way is that communication is enhanced by having parents on rounds and to me that is a goal that is well worth the extra time that it may take to get through rounds. Looking at it another way, we as the Neonatologists may need to spend less time discussing matters after rounds as we have taken care of it already. In the end it may be the most efficient model around!