I don’t know about your place of work but our centre is busy and by busy I mean our resources and staff are almost always working at full capacity. There is a shift afoot though in modern Neonatal care to shift some of the responsibility for care to the parents. You might say it always should have been this way but as with any speciality we grow, learn and evolve over time.
The most recent stage of evolution is the development of the FiCare philosophy. This is not the first time (and likely not the last) that I will reference this strategy. For more information on what it is and what it takes to practice this concept you can click on the FiCare website from Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto here. The gist of it though is that with education and support from nursing in particular some of the traditional functions that are carried out by health care staff can be transferred to the parents. Something as basic as identifying their baby can be a start with progression to providing part of the daily report, participating in handling of their infant during times of stress and performing skin to skin care for many hours a day. The parents are asked to commit to a significant number of hours per day to make this work and the benefits of having close contact are obvious as well.
Can Physiotherapy Be Taught To Parents?
As someone who has been involved in the FiCare project I took particular interest in an article this past month which in essence is related to the teachings of FiCare. T. Ustad from Norway and colleagues published the following Early Parent-Administered Physical Therapy for Preterm Infants: A Randomized Controlled Trial. As someone who values the contribution of our physiotherapists I was curious as to what could be transferred given the demands on an individual PT’s time. Add to this that during surges when many babies under 29 weeks are born and the number of patients they need to see may become overwhelming. What if parents though could take over some of this workload? Well that is what they did in three centres in Norway in a RCT single blinded intervention.
What did they do?
All babies were born < 32 weeks and underwent the intervention between 34 – 36 weeks with final evaluation at 37 week. Parents were taught to perform 10 minutes of manipulation with the goal of improving postural control, head control, and midline orientation. Teaching was done through videos, photos, booklets and direct teaching by the PT on day 1 and then on day 2 return demonstration with correction by the PT occurred.
It was single blinded in that the parent and the PT who did the teaching knew of course which baby received what treatment but the PT doing the standardized evaluation after the two week period was over was blind to treatment assignment. The authors used the TIMP scoring system for spontaneous movements which as it can take up to 30 minutes in some cases may stress the infants so for those a scoring system consisting of half the items was developed called the TIMPSI. This has beee shown previously to correlate well with the larger more involved test.
Sample size calculations were based on finding a difference at 2 years of 0.5 SD between groups which meant they needed 63 infants to show such a difference. They enrolled 153 but after some withdrew the groups were 63 in the intervention and 76 in conventional care.
On to the results
Just so we are clear, this was only designed to be a two week intervention but it was meant to be twice daily for ten minutes at a time. Graphically, using the z-scores for the TIMP scores we have the following graph. Clicking on the highlighted link will tell you more about z-scores but it measures simply how many standard deviations above or below a population mean a score is.
So in this case the absolute difference after the two week period with evaluation one week later is 0.42. This falls short of the 0.5 at two years the sample size calculation was looking for. As with many differences in outcome the results tend to improve with time. Think about the CAP study as an example in which those babies who received caffeine initially had better developmental outcome measures than those who did not but by school age there was no longer a differenced. If the difference is less then one needs many more patients to show a difference than the original sample size would allow. In the end one also needs to think about whether the difference in scores is of statistical interest or if it has true clinical impact.
Some things to consider though
The parents in the intervention group did keep a journal and what they actually did was not what was designed in the study. The average number of sessions per day was only 1.3 with a length of 9 minutes per session. The goals again were 2 for 10 minutes each. The second thing to think about is that by looking at the difference in results from this short intervention it is an exciting mental exercise to think about a couple things. The first is what might the differences look like if the families had been able to do two sessions each per day instead of being closer to 1. The extra minute may not have made such a difference but the extra session might have.
The next thing to consider is how short a time period this really was. What if the plan had been rather than only two weeks, providing the intervention till discharge which for some born at 24 weeks might have been a corrected age at 40 – 44 weeks when they finally went home. Would a much longer exposure have made a bigger difference?
It is always fun to speculate and while I cautioned that the difference seen at two years may narrow further I wonder what the impact on the families will be after the intervention and post discharge. They were taught a new set of techniques to support motor development. Would they simply revert back to the control group afterwards or informally continue on which is what I suspect to some degree they would. The log book doesn’t count the impact of these “extra sessions”. The authors plan an interim analysis along the way so that will be interesting to see.
What the study does show though and what I think is exciting is that it is not just nursing that can transfer some functions to parents. Clearly the parents in this study learned something about handling of patients from the perspective of a PT. I would hope that this study might inspire PTs and other disciplines as the FiCARE approach widens to consider equipping parents with some of their skills sets that are traditionally owned by those specialties alone. What we are discovering with time is that parents are capable of doing more than we have had them do in the past. To make it family centred care truly make them part of the team!