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Chez NICU Home Solution: Building a platform to keep parents connected to their young babies and health care team

Posted by Piper MacDougall on June 15, 2017 in News, News
A nurse and parent with a patient in the NICU. The Chez NICU Home Solution aims to enhance the experience of parents and families with babies in the NICU. (Nick Pearce photo)

Dalhousie University faculty and students are leading an IWK Health Centre initiative to bring the neonatal intensive care unit closer to parents through technology.

The recently announced Chez NICU Home Solution project will provide parents and families of infants in the NICU with the tools and resources they need to become more fully integrated in their baby’s care. Research has shown that NICU babies do better when parents are present and more actively involved in care. The goal of Chez NICU Home is to improve parents’ stay in hospital with their baby through the creation of a secure, online, interactive learning platform. Chez NICU Home will also provide a way for parents to be virtually connected to health care providers and peers in hospital, as well as with their families and friends at home.

The project was announced in March by the Government of Canada and received $3.0 million from the Atlantic Innovation Fund. The scientific lead, Dr. Marsha Campbell-Yeo, is an associate professor at the Dal School of Nursing and a neonatal nurse practitioner and clinician scientist at the IWK. Dr. Campbell-Yeo hopes to see their first prototype by the end of this year and to test the technology in the NICU in 2018. Working together with the IWK and Cisco Solutions, the team aims to create an innovative solution that will transform neonatal care through enhancing parental presence and involvement, ultimately improving efficiency in care delivery. The product will ultimately be commercialized in order to benefit NICUs across the globe.

“This project is timely and extremely responsive to the changing needs of neonatal care,” she says. “Not only will it improve the outcomes of our tiniest and most vulnerable patients and their families, it will strengthen relationships and partnerships across academia, business sectors, government, and clinical arenas. We have the opportunity to set an example not only in Canada but worldwide.”

Engaging students

The project will also engage Dalhousie health students at all levels – from undergraduate summer students, to Masters students and PhDs.

Students will study the physical and emotional aspects of the baby’s environment, review the impact of parent-to-baby involvement, and explore what personalized technology options can work best for patients and their families.

Dr. Campbell-Yeo is excited about the opportunity to engage research students from across the health sphere, as well as those in complimentary fields such as computer science and health informatics: “Chez NICU Home transcends many different areas within the Faculty of Health Professions and within other departments across the university.”

“Students will be in an environment that is transdisciplinary. They will be exposed to multiple methodologies that are both qualitative and quantitative, including focus groups, interviewing, human computer interaction, as well as randomized controlled trials,” says Dr. Campbell-Yeo, explaining the range of opportunities available to students.

Along with gaining skills in research synthesis, students will also have multiple opportunities to publish and get exposure to partners “beyond academic walls.”

Brianna Richardson, a first-year Master of Nursing student, is working on the Chez NICU project as part of her graduate thesis. She’s looking forward to the rigorous research, review, and usability testing that will take place in Dr. Campbell-Yeo’s lab.                                         

As a full-time masters student, she thinks the proximity between the Dal School of Nursing and the IWK – which are located across the street from each other – helps promote close ties between academic research and patient care. “You really see the partnership in the lab,” she says, noting that it translates back to the classroom when students are involved in these types of projects.

Focusing on families

For parents and families with babies in the NICU, it can often be a scary and lonely experience. These emotions are compounded when parents are separated from each other, their families or friends and further heightened if parents need to be separated from their babies.

“It is hard to describe how mentally and emotionally difficult it is to have your children in the NICU,” says Denyne Park, mother of premature twin boys born at 27 weeks. “When we were home getting some rest, or my husband Michael was working, we were always thinking about our babies, wondering and worrying about how they were doing.”

Park, who now has two healthy 23-month-old sons who are meeting their physical and developmental milestones, believes the Chez NICU Home project would have relieved a lot of worry and anxiety within her family.

She is grateful she could participate in daily NICU rounds with her children’s health care team. These allowed her to learn about goals for their progress and to better understand NICU language and processes. But she saw many other families struggle to stay informed and connected when they lived far away or had other children at home. She thinks allowing parents the ability to participate virtually will ease their fear and anxiety when they need to be elsewhere.

Park, who is a Dal Nursing alum herself, sees both the professional and personal benefits of the Chez NICU Home Solution on parent education, as well as communication between all parties in a patient’s care.

"Having constant open communication between parents, families, and the healthcare team is so critical to ensuring that they are all receiving the information, education and support that they need to provide the best possible care for the children," she says.