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Three Virtual Technologies that Enhance Parental Engagement and Improve NICU Outcomes

One of life’s greatest joys is having a baby. However, when the baby is born prematurely, that joy can be overshadowed by anxiety and stress. On top of the concern for the baby’s health, parents can feel overwhelming insecure about leaving their newborn in the hospital. Especially while getting back to their normal life routines, particularly when the stay extends for weeks or months. And they have good reason to be concerned. When parents are actively engaged, neonates experience better outcomes.

  • Babies exposed to maternal sounds in the NICU experience fewer cardiorespiratory events.[1]
  • Preterm babies exposed to parental talk achieve higher language and cognitive scores at 7 and 18 months.[2]
  • Exposure to parental talk is a strong predictor of infant vocalizations.[3]

Increasing access to the NICU for parents and families should be considered an essential part of a neonatal care program. It is often difficult for parents to travel to see their little ones. All hospitals with neonatal ICUs can relieve this stress by leveraging virtual engagement technology.

Bedside web cameras

Studies show a link between postpartum maternal distress and adverse cognitive, behavioral, and psychomotor development in infants. Web cameras placed at the bedside can help relieve this stress by allowing parents to view their infant at any time from a web-enabled device. With audio capabilities, the parent can verbally interact with the baby as well. In addition to helping the mother and father, it also provides the infant with the health advantages of parental talk, even though they aren’t physically present.

When choosing a web camera technology, look for one that allows parents to view multiple babies with the same login. Choose those that are easy for staff to use and that provide staff with multiple views on a single screen. Consider solutions that offer the ability to easily reposition the camera without having to log into the system to verify the change. While 24/7 viewing is optimal, there may be times when the camera needs to be turned off for privacy. Look for a solution that offers a bedside switch. Integration with the EMR and bed management system is also important.

Clinical communication

Technology can support communication between the care team and family, increasing trust and making the process more efficient. Video technology is great for capturing clinical updates or rounds when parents are unable to be present. The videos can be used internally to improve clinician-clinician communication. Sharing information becomes easier and helps improve patient hand-offs while reducing gaps in care. Beyond improving internal workflows, videos can be shared with parents to help provide additional information captured in real-time that may be overlooked during a phone conversation.

When choosing video technology, look for high-resolution and superior audio quality. Lower quality solutions may be cheaper, but they can be confusing if the information presented in the video can’t be understood. Be sure to ask if video storage is HIPAA compliant and for what timeframe videos are accessible and by whom.

For many NICUs, the primary form of communication with families is the phone. This is especially true when the parents live in a rural area where traveling to the hospital is difficult. Virtual tools such as interactive text can help improve information-sharing and reduce phone calls, leaving clinicians more time to focus on direct patient care.

The best virtual communication solutions provide a variety of features such as one-way messages pushed similar to text, as well as photo and video updates, and family message boards. Another great feature is Google Translate, which translates more than 100 languages, helping to improve communication and accuracy of information shared. It also helps make communication between the staff and the family more efficient. Patient satisfaction surveys provide an added benefit by being able to capture family feedback easily. This real-time feedback can be invaluable for driving quality improvements in the NICU.

Online education

When most neonates leave the hospital, they continue to require specialized care. This can be overwhelming for parents and family caregivers. Providing them with the resources they need can go a long way in reducing their anxiety and improving adherence to care plans. Education is also important for reducing readmissions and achieving the best long-term health outcomes. Having educational tools available 24/7 can help ease the transition from hospital to home for both the infant and the family.

Look for solutions that provide an easy-to-use platform that can be accessed on a desktop as well as a mobile device. It should have multiple logins so that each family member caring for the infant can easily access the information they need when they need it. Documentation should be customizable to the infant’s specific condition and should be provided in a user-friendly library format. In some cases, videos can provide more detailed guidance than documentation. Look for solutions that offer both pre-recorded videos and the ability to record videos in real-time. It’s also helpful to have a solution that allows clinicians to validate which materials have been viewed. This enables clinicians to conduct more informed follow-up calls to ensure compliance or to address concerns.

Relieving stress. Improving outcomes.

We are achieving remarkable advancements in the care of premature and high-risk neonates. Unfortunately, this often results in longer stays in the NICU and longer separation between infants and their parents and family. By leveraging technology-enabled virtual engagement solutions, hospitals can enhance the patient, parent, and family experience while improving health outcomes.

[1] https://doi.org/10.3109/14767058.2011.648237

[2] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/133/3/e578

[3] https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/5/910