Giving birth to a child can be a scary experience even in the best of circumstances. Imagine delivering your child well before the due date, when their respiratory, digestive and nervous systems haven’t developed fully. Premature birth happens more often than you might think, with roughly one in ten babies in the United States born too soon. Many of those babies are transferred to a hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where they can get special care from very special nurses. This week, we’re celebrating those nurses as part of National Neonatal Nurses Day.
When I started out as a nurse at Sarasota Memorial Hospital three decades ago, the NICU kept lots of babies together in one big room, which made it easy for nurses to take care of their patients and ask each other for help when they needed it. Unfortunately, while we could see our patients and talk to the other nurses, we had to leave the bedside when we needed to call a physician, Pharmacist or Respiratory Therapist. Nurses would page a doctor and then stand by the phone, waiting for a call back with important treatment instructions. Other shortcomings of the “open bay” room were that it tended to get noisy at times, and prevented families from spending a lot of time with their babies, simply due to lack of space.
As one study has shown, “Despite the benefits of the traditional multi-bed open-bay design for nurses, this crowded setup leaves little room for privacy or personalization of space to meet the needs of the infant and the family.”
This can be difficult for a new mother of a premature baby, who might feel cut off from her baby’s care. In contrast, going to a private room with the baby is wonderful, providing a much more positive patient experience because the parents and child can bond as a family without constant interruptions, but with the trust and confidence that a nurse will be there to help when needed.
Thomas Young, MD, Neonatologist with WakeMed Physician Practices and Medical Director of the NICU at WakeMed Health and Hospitals, explains: “In the past our focus was primarily on treating a baby’s immediate illnesses, and contact between them and their families was often limited. Research has taught us that family involvement throughout the hospital stay can make a significant difference in a baby’s long-term success and development.”
That’s why as hospitals build new women’s and children’s units or erect modern patient towers, they are trending away from open bay units to private patient rooms. That change has brought with it new challenges: How do NICU nurses know when a family or baby needs their attention? And how can they connect with other caregivers when they need help?
When Sarasota Memorial’s Level III NICU moved to a private-room setting in a new patient tower, the nursing staff relied on Voalte smartphones to stay connected to each other and keep close tabs on their tiny patients. Pertinent and actionable alarms are sent to the appropriate nurse’s smartphone from patient monitors via Connexall middleware, and forwarded quickly to a “buddy” caregiver if that nurse is not immediately available. Nurses also receive nurse call alerts directly on their smartphones, so they can respond quickly to a family member that needs assistance.
As healthcare providers, we have to make sure mothers and fathers feel confident that their baby will be well taken care of. It’s very hard for parents to go home and leave a baby in the NICU, but with babies sometimes staying in the hospital for several weeks, it’s often not possible for a family member to be with the baby at all times. We explain to them how we use the smartphones and how they help us take care of them and their babies. When they see that we come immediately when an alarm sounds or when they press the nurse call button, they feel comfortable that their baby is receiving the best possible care. And when they see a nurse pull out her or his Voalte smartphone to send a text to a physician or a Pharmacist, they see that we are listening to their concerns and getting quick answers to their questions.
As I work with hospitals across the country to get them up and running with Voalte solutions, I share the importance of not only establishing an efficient way to communicate, but also building that trust and confidence. The nursing staff needs to feel confident in their ability to respond to their patients, and patients and families need to have trust in the people caring for them.
Debbie Harman, MSN, RNC, CLC, is Clinical Solutions Consultant at Voalte.