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neonatology

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

Bringing Evidence to Bear in the Use of Perioperative Antibiotics

Ninety percent of patients in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s of Alabama will undergo a surgical procedure during their admission, putting them at risk of infections and other complications. Thus, the NICU team has been implementing performance improvement initiatives to improve outcomes, including focusing on pain control and standardizing handoffs before and after surgery. 

The most recent initiative targets perioperative antibiotic use. “The vast majority of surgical patients will require some type of antibiotic during the perioperative period,” said neonatologist Allison Black, M.D., “and we noticed there wasn’t any standard as to the dose or type of antibiotics used for each procedure.” 

That’s a problem, she said, because prolonged use of broad-spectrum antibiotics may be harmful. “It changes the infant’s gut flora, increases the risk for antibiotic-resistant infections, and may have toxicities,” she said. 

Thus, the NICU team, including physicians, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists, collaborated with the general surgeons and each surgical subspecialty to devise a solution. The surgeons collected evidence and then recommended an antibiotic as well as its dose and duration based on the specific procedure. The team used these recommendations and the evidence supporting them to create the NICU Perioperative Antibiotic Prophylaxis guidelines. 

“Now, unless there is a specific reason, all perioperative antibiotics are ordered based on these guidelines, and surgeons follow the protocol,” Dr. Black said. “It’s like clockwork.” The result is less use of prolonged empiric antibiotics and less confusion over which to use. Another advantage is less exposure to nephrotoxic drugs that can lead to acute kidney injury, she said. 

The unit’s two pharmacists ensure the protocol is followed. “Initially, it was difficult to break our decades-long habit of asking the surgeons which antibiotic they preferred and for how long after each surgical case,” said clinical pharmacist Sadie Stone, PharmD. “With the perioperative guidelines in place, we can initiate an evidence-based regimen quickly for our most common surgical procedures.”  

Since instituting the guidelines, the pharmacists have been collecting data and tracking guideline compliance. “We discuss each surgical plan with the nurse practitioner based on the guidelines when the patient returns from surgery,” said clinical pharmacist Emily Evans, PharmD. Each case is then retrospectively reviewed to determine if the procedure has an antimicrobial course included in the guidelines. If so, the actual antimicrobial course is screened against the guidelines for adherence. “These guidelines have expanded our antimicrobial stewardship role in the NICU,” she said. 

“The hope is that reduction in the use of antibiotics will decrease the need for central lines, which, in turn, also reduces the risk of infections and associated complications,” said Dr. Black. The team also tracks post-operative infection rates to ensure there is no increase. 

“This initiative again shows the improvement possible with multidisciplinary collaboration,” she said. 

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

Using Quality Improvement to Improve Maternal/Child Health

Dr-Sam-Gentle-Neonatology-Resized

Children’s of Alabama neonatologist Samuel Gentle, M.D.

Children’s of Alabama neonatologist Samuel Gentle, M.D., is passionate about the tiny babies he treats—and passionate in his belief that healthcare professionals like him can always do better. That’s why he helped start the Alabama Perinatal Quality Collaborative (ALPQC), a statewide initiative devoted to improving the quality of care for women and children. “Quality improvement is something I’ve been intrinsically drawn to,” he said. “I love the application of data science to a healthcare setting, allowing a confluence of providers to demonstrably show their efforts have impacted a patient population.”  

The collaborative’s first project in 2018 was improving birth certificate accuracy. This might sound small, but accurate vital statistics and birth data are critical ingredients to monitor population health—particularly that of women and children—solve public health problems at the local, state and federal levels; and make wise decisions about where to spend limited dollars.  

When the initiative started, just 70 percent of the 25 participating hospitals were submitting accurate birth certificates based on 11 key variables, with low reporting accuracy for individual variables such as antenatal corticosteroids, birth weight and maternal hypertension. After this quality improvement initiative, 95 percent of enrolled hospitals were submitting accurate birth certificates.  

The pandemic hit before the collaborative could launch its next project. Instead of shutting down, however, “we pivoted,” Dr. Gentle said, hosting webinars about COVID-19 and maternal and child health to share best practices from other hospitals and to “continue to evolve and learn from each other.” 

Finally, with the country returning to some version of normal, the ALPQC was ready to move on to one of its next projects: neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).  “Alabama saw a 20 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2020 compared to 2019,” Dr. Gentle said. “This is a critical time to address many of the aims set forth by this initiative.” In 2016, NOWS affected 6.7 per 1,000 in-hospital births with overall hospitalization costs of $572.7 million.1 In Alabama that year, nearly 600 infants covered by Medicaid were diagnosed with NOWS, an increase of nearly 100 percent from 2010. 

Using the Institute of Health Improvement’s model for improving quality, the initiative focuses on developing and instituting standardized practices around NOWS, including reducing stigma, increasing the use of non-pharmacologic care, and providing structural support for mothers, including addiction services and medication for opioid use disorder.   

“The global aim is to optimize care for mothers and their newborns with NOWS,” Dr. Gentle said. More specifically, the ALPQC hopes to reduce length of stay and exposure to pharmacologic treatments by 20 percent; and ensure that 95 percent of families are discharged with a collaborative plan linking them to community services. The project will run in conjunction with a third ALPQC initiative to decrease rates of severe maternal morbidity associated with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. The collaborative hopes to have results by the end of the year. 

Although the ALPQC is still gathering data, at least one hospital cut the length of stay in half for infants with NOWS, Dr. Gentle said. 

The success of such statewide improvement requires a broad group of stakeholders, he said. “This work would not be possible without our partnerships,” he added, which include the Alabama Hospital Association, the Alabama Department of Public Health and payers. He also highlighted ALPQC Program Director Evelyn Coronado-Guillaumet’s leadership, as well as the consortium of hospitals’ continued engagement. “The hospitals’ shared experience certainly accelerates the work,” he said.  

Asked what’s next on the agenda, Dr. Gentle said telecommunication-based training for neonatal resuscitation. 


1 Strahan AE, Guy GP, Bohm M, Frey M, Ko JY. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Incidence and Health Care Costs in the United States, 2016. JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(2):200–202.

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

Focus on Feeding in the NICU

Infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are at huge risk of problems with oral feeding, potentially requiring surgical intervention if they can’t take in the nutrition required for growth and healing.  

Historically, specialized occupational therapists evaluated and treated babies who had feeding issues at Children’s of Alabama. But today, they are joined by specialized speech therapists. 

“The addition of speech therapists with special interest in NICU patients gave us an additional caretaker with a different background and skill set,” said neonatologist Allison Black, M.D. “We took advantage of both disciplines and their specialized, yet different, training and teamed them to create the infant feeding team.” 

“The teamwork begins during the evaluation process, even performing some of the tests such as swallowing studies and fiberoptic endoscopic evaluations of swallowing together,” Dr. Black said. Having two therapists work together for these studies is a bonus, said Christy Moran, an occupational therapist who works on the feeding team.  

For instance, she said, it is quite challenging to perform a modified barium swallow on an infant. With two therapists, however, one positions the infant and serves as feeder, incorporating the techniques used to support oral feeding. The other therapist prepares the barium and watches the screen. “It is a much better study with two therapists working together, so each can focus completely on their part instead of splitting their attention between one or the other,” Moran said.  

The therapists then collaborate to form a feeding and therapy plan, which they share with the rest of the NICU team. The approach continues until the patient is discharged home. 

“The patient benefits because they get evaluated by different people at different times, both of whom are experts at feeding infants,” Dr. Black said. “This helps us get a clearer overall picture of what the infant is truly capable of since a baby’s interest in feeding can depend on the time of day and multiple other factors, all of which are constantly changing in the NICU.”  

Working as a team also enables greater support for families and caretakers, said speech-language pathologist Allie Gilbert. “Since we work so closely together, there is a rhythm to our discharge sessions,” she said, “and parents seem to appreciate having both disciplines reinforcing the same recommendations.” 

Dr. Black is now collecting data on the impact the team has on infant feeding. Anecdotally, however, she said she’s seen greater success at getting babies to take oral feeds more quickly since implementing the team concept.  

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

Generous Donation to NeuroNICU B.R.A.I.N. Program Helps Reduce Risk of Brain Injury in Premature Infants

NICU_WEB

Through a generous donation by Robert and Kathleen Israel, Children’s of Alabama is now home to new technology that helps dramatically prevent brain injury and improve brain development and function in its sickest patients.

Children’s of Alabama is thrilled to announce a very generous gift of a cutting-edge technology designed to help reduce the risk of brain injury in preterm infants. The gift was donated by Robert and Kathleen Israel in honor of the care their daughter, Ivy, received in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in 2018. Ivy is home and doing very well. “The NICU team at Children’s of Alabama saved our daughter’s life,” said Robert Israel, “and we are forever grateful.”

“This new technology made possible by the Israel family is helping us  dramatically prevent brain injury and improve brain development and function in our sickest patients,” said Manimaran Ramani, M.D., director of the NeuroNICU program.

Preterm infants born at 30 weeks or earlier are at higher risk for developing intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), which is associated with long-term neurocognitive and motor deficits. The risk for neurocognitive and motor deficits is also higher for term infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), seizures, metabolic disorders, or stroke, and those undergoing ECMO therapy.

However, a multidisciplinary initiative in the NICU at Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) called NeuroNICU B.R.A.I.N. (Brain Rescue and Avoidance of Injury in Neonates) aims to prevent and reduce neurocognitive and motor deficits in high-risk neonates.  

The objective of the B.R.A.I.N. program is to identify and prevent brain injury early in high-risk neonates through state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques and neuroprotective care. An interdisciplinary team of medical professionals meets every week to strategize individualized comprehensive neuroprotective plans for infants enrolled in B.R.A.I.N.

Though standard vital monitoring techniques used in NICUs such as blood pressure, heart rate and pulse oximetry provide valuable information about the infant’s hemodynamic status, such standard monitoring techniques don’t provide real-time information regarding the brain’s oxygenation saturation, oxygenation extraction and perfusion status of a sick neonate.

This is where infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) monitoring comes in. “This technology allows us to monitor cerebral oxygenation in very sick infants,” Ramani said. It is a non-invasive method that can be used continually at the bedside as well as during surgery to monitor the health of the brain. It can also be combined with amplitude-integrated electroencephalography (aEEG) to monitor cerebral electrical activity and to diagnose seizures in sick neonates in real-time.

“With the two NIRS devices donated by the Israel family, we are now able to monitor the brain health and adjust our therapies and strategies in real-time on our patients,” Ramani said.

 

 

Inside Pediatrics, Neonatology

Debriefing after Resuscitation: A Quality Improvement Initiative

Resuscitation_WEB

In October 2018, the Children’s of Alabama Neonatal Intensive Care Unit embarked on a quality improvement project, Debriefing Following Resuscitation/Code Events in the NICU, to identify opportunities to improve the resuscitation process, including staff satisfaction. It is one of several quality initiatives led by the Children’s Hospitals Neonatal Consortium.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be an intimidating and stressful place to work.  One of the most stressful events in the NICU is a neonatal code or resuscitation, which may require intubation, chest compressions and special medications, all delivered under the pressure of knowing that seconds count. This requires that the team of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other practitioners work together like a well-oiled machine.

Resuscitation codes are, by definition, rare events, said Children’s of Alabama neonatologist Hannah Hightower, M.D. Weeks may go by without any and then they might have several in one month. But they are definitely disruptive and stressful.

In October 2018, the Children’s of Alabama NICU embarked on a quality improvement project, Debriefing Following Resuscitation/Code Events in the NICU, to identify opportunities to improve the resuscitation process, including staff satisfaction. It is one of several quality initiatives led by the Children’s Hospitals Neonatal Consortium (CHNC), a group of more than 30 children’s hospitals around the country dedicated to using performance improvement methods to improve the delivery and quality of care in Level IV NICUs, which care for high acuity and medically complicated neonates.

The premise is simple. As soon as possible after the code, everyone gathers for a few minutes to discuss what went well, any equipment or medication problems, communication quality, and, of course, highlighting what could go better next time. They also complete a short form documenting the discussion. In just three months, the team at Children’s exceeded its goal of holding post-resuscitation debriefings after 80 percent of codes.

Such approaches can lead to improved resuscitation quality and reduced mortality, research finds. [1]

“The goal is to help everyone involved in the process improve skills, cope with the stress, and ultimately and most importantly, improve the process and patient outcomes by identifying potential latent safety threats,” Hightower said. “We want everyone on the team to feel free to express any concerns as well as provide support. Even the caregivers need a chance to decompress.”  “Not only does it provide a venue for raising issues related to caring for the patient, she said, “but it also lets us show appreciation for the things that went well.”

“It wasn’t a surprise to hear that one of the biggest issues is communication in a stressful period,” Hightower said. “We can always improve communication, whether that means discussing who is leading the code or controlling the volume so everyone can hear and understand what’s going on.” Discussing communication issues shortly after the code is important, she said, “because it’s at the front of your mind. By doing this immediately, you remember things you may not later and can articulate issues that might not be apparent in a week or two.”

Since implementing the initiative, the team has begun a proposal to further improve communication by emphasizing who is leading the code. Future projects include providing each member a way to give real time feedback not just to the code event, but also to the quality and effectiveness of the debrief. “We want to quickly identify systemic matters that can be improved for the next event. This is to develop a culture of freely expressing ideas and working through issues together as a team,” Hightower said.

The team is still collecting data on the primary outcome of latent safety events, a key component of any quality improvement initiative. Secondary outcomes include quality of the debriefs and composition of the responding code team.

“I credit our success to our strong nursing leadership and the willingness of the staff to be actively involved in quality improvement and do the extra work required to accomplish that goal,” Hightower said. “They have to step away from the patient and cover for each other during the debrief and even though it may take just a few minutes, to ask a nurse to step away from the patient is a big task.”

Although the team is still collecting data on the impact on staff satisfaction, she said, “anecdotally we have heard from nurses and other staff who feel they had a chance to say what they needed during the code or might need in the future. That’s gotten positive feedback.”

“It’s important to highlight the goal of this project is improved patient care, patient outcomes and staff satisfaction,” Hightower said. It’s also important that Children’s of Alabama is a part of a national collaborative with other major children’s hospitals, she said, and has been one of the most successful programs in the CHNC in terms of demonstrated outcomes. Other performance improvement initiatives with the CHNC include improving pain management and reducing nephrotoxic injury.

Resuscitation_CHART

In just three months after embarking on its quality improvement project, the NICU team at Children’s of Alabama exceeded its goal of holding post-resuscitation debriefings after 80 percent of codes.


[1] Wolfe H, Zebuhr C, Topjian AA, et al. Interdisciplinary ICU Cardiac Arrest Debriefing Improves Survival Outcomes Crit Care Med. 2014 Jul; 42(7): 1688–1695.

 

Neonatology

Baby NINJA: Reducing Acute Kidney Injury One Preemie at a Time

Up to 87% of very low-birthweight infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are exposed to at least one nephrotoxic medication during their stay. About 1 in 4 of those experience at least one episode of acute kidney injury (AKI), which can lead to increased length of stay and mortality. [1], [2], [3] There is also evidence that even a single incidence of AKI increases the risk of chronic kidney disease.[4]

To address this problem, in 2015 Children’s of Alabama began the first initiative in the country designed to reduce the use of nephrotoxic medications in the NICU. The initiative, called “Baby NINJA,” was so successful it is now being validated at several other major children’s hospitals.

The effort builds off the NINJA (Nephrotoxic Injury Negated by Just-in-Time Action) project, a joint endeavor between Children’s and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center that started in 2011 in non-critically ill children. The goal was to ensure that children only receive the nephrotoxic medications that they needed for as long as they needed them, and that their kidney function was closely monitored for any signs of AKI.

The NINJA initiative reduced exposure to nephrotoxic medications by 38% and concomitant AKI by 64%.[5] As a result, last year it was added to the Solutions for Patient Safety consortium and instituted at 147 children’s hospitals worldwide.

The Baby NINJA project at Children’s has demonstrated similarly stellar outcomes, noted Christine Stoops, D.O., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the primary investigator on the initiative. In the 18 months after implementing the program, nephrotoxic medication exposure dropped 42% and AKI prevalence fell 78%, she said. Meanwhile, the rate of patients with AKI who had also been exposed to nephrotoxic medications fell 64%, while patients spent 68% fewer days in AKI.

The program’s key players are the two NICU pharmacists, Sadie Stone, PharmD, and Emily Evans, PharmD, who round daily with the multidisciplinary team, which includes  neonatologists and nurse practitioners, to identify at-risk babies, Stoops said. Once identified, a magnet is put on the patient room entryway denoting that the the infant is on “NINJA Watch,” which serves as a reminder to closely review medications. “The success of the program is due to in large part to the strong pharmacist support,” she said.

The pharmacists review a screening report of patients with high NTM exposure each morning and manually verify the exposure. Infants with a high exposure then receive a daily serum creatinine test during and for two days post-exposure or post-AKI resolution, whichever occurred last. During this time, the team discusses possible alternative medications, drug dosages, timing of drug levels, and hydration status. Previously, the infants would have only received the test every three to five days.

“It tells the neonatologist that this kidney is at risk of injury and makes everyone ask, ‘are these the medications the baby needs? Could we adjust them, even if we just reduce the dose? How do we reduce the risk of AKI if they really do need these medications?’” Stoops said. Often, she said, “It’s just a simple act of being mindful about what you’re doing.”    

The NINJA program is now being rolled out throughout Children’s in other intensive care units, and validated at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 

Help for Children With Kidney Disease

Learn about the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology at Children’s of Alabama.


[1] Rhone ET, Carmody JB, Swanson JR, Charlton JR. Nephrotoxic medication exposure in very low birth weight infants. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2014;27(14):1485-90.

[2] Jetton J, Boohaker L, K Sethi S, Wazir S, Rohatgi S, Soranno D, et al. Incidence and outcomes of neonatal acute kidney injury (AWAKEN): a multicentre, multinational, observational cohort study. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. 2017;1(3):184-94.

[3] Askenazi DJ, Griffin R, McGwin G, Carlo W, Ambalavanan N. Acute kidney injury is independently associated with mortality in very low birthweight infants: a matched case-control analysis. Pediatr Nephrol. 2009;24(5):991-7.

[4] Menon S, Kirkendall ES, Nguyen H, Goldstein SL. Acute kidney injury associated with high nephrotoxic medication exposure leads to chronic kidney disease after 6 months. J Pediatr. 2014;165(3):522-7 e2.

[5] Goldstein SL, Mottes T, Simpson K, et al. A sustained quality improvement program reduces nephrotoxic medication-associated acute kidney injury. Kidney Int. 2016;90(1):212-21.

Neonatology

Uncovering the Role of the Pulmonary Microbiome in Chronic Respiratory Disease

Say the word microbiome and you probably think about the billions of microbes that inhabit the gut. But Children’s of Alabama neonatologist Charitharth Vivek Lal, M.D., wants you to consider another microbiome — the lung microbiome. Not only does it exist, he and his team have discovered, but it is present as early as birth, even at 24 weeks gestation, negating the long-held believe that the lungs are sterile before birth.

The question he is now trying to answer is what role it plays in the chronic lung disease bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), which affects between 48% to 68% of babies born before 28 weeks of gestation. The condition is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in preterm infants, characterized by lung inflammation, injury and pulmonary hypertension, among other factors.[1]

A study from Lal clearly demonstrated that microbial imbalance, or dysbiosis, predicts the development of BPD in extremely low-birthweight newborns. He and his team evaluated the microbiome of several infants at birth and found diverse and similar airway microbiomes in both, which differed from older preterm infants with BPD.

They found that dysbiotic changes in the airway microbiome at birth correlated with the development of BPD, including lower levels of the “good” bacteria lactobacillus in infants born to mothers with chorioamnionitis, an infection of the membranes of the placenta that is an independent risk factor for BPD. They suggested in their paper that a microbiome signature possibly exists in utero, and that part of its role may be to prime the pulmonary immune system. If dysbiosis occurs, they wrote, “it may set the stage for subsequent lung disease.”

So, said Lal, what about a respiratory probiotic to restore the microbiome?

“If it relieves inflammation, could we use this to replace steroids in various childhood lung diseases?” he asked. Studies in mice using Dr. Lal’s patented ‘respiratory probiotics’ demonstrate benefits. “The next step is to test it in larger animals and then humans,” he said.


[1] Lal CV, Bhandari V, Ambalavanan N.Genomics, Microbiomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics in Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia. Semin Perinatol. 2018 Nov;42(7):425-431.

[2] Lal CV, Kandasamy J, Ramani M, Ambalavanan N. Metabolomic and Metagenomic Signatures of Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2018 Aug 16.

[3] Lal CV, Olave N, Travers C, Halloran H, Rezonzew G, Xu X, Genschmer K, Russell D, Gaggar A, Blalock E, Vineet Bhandari, Ambalavanan N. Exosomal MicroRNA 876-3p Predicts and Protects Against Severe Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia in Extremely Preterm Infants. JCI Insight, 2018; 3(5: e93994). PMID: 29515035

Care for the Tiniest Patients

Learn more about the Department of Neonatology at Children’s of Alabama.

Neonatology

Joined at the Hip

Neonatology_Hip

The sky bridges connecting the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Women & Infants Center and Children’s of Alabama provide more than a means of travel from point A to B. For the UAB/Children’s Division of Neonatology, the sky bridges not only facilitate seamless clinical care, but also seamless research collaborations.

“It’s a tremendous benefit,” said Trent Tipple, M.D., UAB associate professor of pediatrics, director of neonatology faculty development and co-director of the Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellowship Training Program. “The integration is one that just makes sense. It eliminates a lot of barriers that can make research frustrating and allows one to focus on designing the best study with the necessary personnel; to really think about how to execute a study rather than whether a study can be done.”

“It’s one of the unique features here. UAB’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Children’s NICU are literally joined at the hip,” said Namasivayam Ambalavanan, M.D., UAB professor of pediatrics, neonatology division co-director, director of the Translational Research in Normal & Disordered Development (TReNDD) Program at UAB and principal investigator of the UAB Research Center. “This makes clinical care a lot better and research also improves.”

Carl “Tim” Coghill, M.D., UAB professor of pediatrics and medical director of Children’s NICU, said the physical proximity not only serves as a benefit to clinicians and researchers, but also patient families facing what can be a stressful experience.

“Many freestanding children’s hospitals are blocks away from their associated delivery units, making it difficult for consultants to see the infants without transfer away from the mother,” Coghill said. “Children’s of Alabama used to be two blocks from UAB with no connecting bridge. With the present bridge, the closest NICU bed at UAB is only 75 feet from the nearest NICU bed at Children’s, which is closer than some beds are to each other in other respective units.”

Coghill continued, “The ability to stay with a nursing staff that you know and a hospital that you are familiar with while continuing to get the best care is a confidence builder, and delivering great care is only good enough if it is perceived to be great care by the patients and families as well.”

As a founding member of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Neonatal Research Network (NRN), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), UAB/Children’s is consistently one of the top centers in developing, leading, enrolling and analyzing randomized controlled trials and clinical studies. For example, neonatology division members have led three major innovative NRN studies – the SAVE Factorial Trial, the Cytokine Study and the SUPPORT Factorial Trial. A fourth trial led by UAB/Children’s neonatologists testing the effects of caffeine late in the neonatal course and at home to shorten hospitalization and decrease apparent life threatening events began enrollment this year.

In its more than 30 years of existence, the NRN has defined the standards of multi-institutional collaborative research resulting in increased survival and decreased morbidity rates of extremely low birth weight infants and other critically ill infants in the U.S. Wally Carlo, M.D., Edwin M. Dixon Endowed Chair in Neonatology and neonatology division co-director, and Ambalavanan are principal investigators for the NRN and have led nationwide studies on ventilator care, antenatal steroids, chronic lung disease and neurodevelopment outcomes. A study in the NRN published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that neonatal mortality has been decreased over the last 10 years, including decreases in almost all specific causes of neonatal mortality, because of improvements in care implemented in the NRN centers.

In addition, UAB/Children’s is the only facility in the U.S. to be awarded grants in all three perinatal networks from the NICHD – the NRN, the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network and the Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research. For more than two decades, these networks have awarded UAB/Children’s more than $20 million to fund research for pregnant women and babies. The most recent grants, awarded in 2016, will bring a total $1.1 million per year through 2021.

Under the Global Network, UAB/Children’s researchers have led seminal investigations of resuscitation and essential newborn care in 100 communities in six countries, which included almost 200,000 infants. These trials established the effectiveness of these interventions in reducing stillbirths and neonatal mortality, and led to worldwide implementation of training, including the globally-implemented Helping Babies Breathe Program and the Essential Care for Every Baby Program launched in 2014. The programs have been introduced in more than 75 countries to save babies’ lives at birth, with the potential to reduce infant deaths soon after birth by 1 million.

“It should save a million lives every single year at almost no cost,” Carlo said of the programs. “It will save the most lives in the world.”

Division of Neonatology
Learn more about the Division of Neonatology, including specialty clinics and faculty bios, at https://www.childrensal.org/neonatology.

Neonatology

STEPP-IN Initiative Improves Outcomes in Neonatal Surgical Patients

Neonatology_STEPP-IN

Newborns admitted to neonatal intensive care units (NICU) in freestanding children’s hospitals like Children’s of Alabama are typically sicker with much greater complications than those admitted to NICUs in delivery hospitals. Indeed, “All our patients are referred because of some type of complication that can’t be cared for at a delivery facility,” said NICU Associate Medical Director Allison Black, M.D. Most, she said, will require surgical procedures and/or care from pediatric subspecialists.

Thus, developing policies and procedures to improve the overall care and outcomes for these patients is paramount. One of the best ways to do that, research shows, is through a quality improvement approach, in which collaborative teams review current procedures, identify gaps, then redesign processes to close the gaps.

Which is exactly what Black and her team did to reduce perioperative stress in their tiny patients. Called the Safe Transitions and Euthermia in the Perioperative Period in Infants and Neonates (STEPP-IN), it is part of the Children’s Hospital Neonatal Consortium (CHNC).

“We know that going to the operating room creates significant physiological stress for these babies,” according to Black, in part because of the handoff between teams. The idea was to promote stability by improving and standardizing the handoff process. “There was a handoff through the charting, but not face-to-face,” she said.

So a multidisciplinary team of clinicians from the NICU, anesthesia and surgery worked together to create protocols and handoff forms to improve scores on the Post-Operative Management Score (POMS), which measures temperature, glucose, pH, pCO2 and intubation status, all of which can indicate infant stress. The score is calculated based on the number of times every parameter is within the target range. The goal is to reach each parameter at least 85 percent of the time.

The revamped protocol used today requires that the primary bedside nurse as well as nurse practitioner and/or neonatologist transport the infant to the pre-operative bay and provide an in-person handoff to the anesthesiologist or certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA), including written documentation of the baby’s status.

That face-to-face communication is important, Black said. “There are some things about the patient’s overall acuity and clinical course that can’t be expressed on paper and is better communicated verbally at the bedside with the patient,” she said. A similar process occurs postoperatively.

The team first tackled temperature. The handoff sheet requires temperature measures at six time points, including before and after transport to and from the operating room, as well as the highest and lowest temperature measurements during the procedure and the OR room temperature. “From this data we were able to pinpoint when our patients were getting cold and could work to address problems, such as providing education about thermoregulation in the OR as well as during transport,” Black said. Since implementing the new procedures, 90 percent or more of surgical patients have had postoperative temperatures within the accepted range.

Soon after Children’s began collecting data on the initiative, it received the CHNC Continuous Quality Improvement Initiative Golden Collaborative Award. In October, it also received a CHNC award for its work on improving euthermia in the postoperative process through the handoff procedure.

The team is now working to improve other POMS parameters. For instance, it found that it was only collecting full POMS data on about 10 to 20 percent of its postsurgical patients. So it developed a protocol and educated NICU and bedside nurses to obtain postoperative glucose as well as blood gases within one hour of the patient’s return to the NICU from the OR.

“Now that we’re collecting the data, we can take a hard look at where we could improve,” Black said. The team now evaluates the data every month and works to identify and address any problems.

“Looking at the parameters and understanding how they reflect the stability of the patient and how we can improve them in the postoperative period is improving the overall care,” she said.

Neonatology Clinics
Learn about some specialized neonatology services at Children’s of Alabama.