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Single-Room Environment can Boost Care for Preterm Infants

Update Date: Sep 22, 2014 01:22 PM EDT

When babies are born preterm, they have a greater risk of suffering from many health complications. In order to improve their level of care, preterm infants should be treated in a single-family room environment, a team headed by Barry M. Lester, PhD, director of the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island and professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, reported.

"There are few studies that have compared the individual single family room neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with the traditional 'open bay' model of care. In particular, two critical issues have not been systematically addressed," explained James F. Padbury, MD, pediatrician-in-chief and chief of Neonatal/Perinatal Medicine at Women & Infants Hospital and the William and Mary Oh - William and Elsa Zopfi Professor of Pediatrics for Perinatal Research at the Alpert Medical School. "First is the effect of the single family room NICU on neurodevelopmental outcome. The second is how and why positive or negative effects of the single family room NICU occur."

Dr. Lester added, according to the press release, "We hypothesized that infants cared for in the single family room NICU would have better medical and neurobehavioral outcomes than infants cared for in the open baby NICU, as well as that medical and neurobehavioral differences between NICUs could be explained, in part, by developmental support, parenting factors and the adoption of family centered care."

In the study, the team examined nearly 400 premature infants that were at the Women & Infants Hospital. In 2009, this hospital developed the largest and only single family room NICU at the time. 151 infants were treated in the traditional, open bay NICU format whereas 252 were cared for in the single family room NICU. Data on the open bay NICU care were collected in 2008 to 2009 for 18 consecutive months. After a three-month break, data on the single family room NICU were collected consecutively for 31 months from 2010 to 2012.

The researchers found that at hospital discharge, the infants who were treated in the single family room NICU had greater weight gain, fewer medical procedures, better attention, less physiological stress, less hypertonicity, less pain and less lethargy than the infants from the other group. The researchers believe that the single family room NICU environment promoted maternal and medical staff involvement, which could have contributed to greater developmental support for the infant.

"What we found was that the single family room provides more opportunities to do things that improve outcomes, such as increased maternal involvement and increased developmental support," said Dr. Lester. "If you build a single-family room unit and do not change how you care for the babies, it would be unrealistic to expect to see any significant improvement."

The study, "Single Family Room Care Improves Neurobehavioral and Medical Outcomes in Preterm Infants," was published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics.

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