By Tammi Jantzen, co-founder and CFO, Astarte Medical.
The American Hospital Association (AHA) recently determined that 75% of senior hospital executives endorsed the importance of digital innovation. This is incredible progress for the industry, but there are still key areas within hospitals that need to embrace the new technologies available, for both the health of the hospital and its patients.
One of the most underserved departments when it comes to innovation is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The lack of investment might come from the assumption that it’s too small of a population, but these infants are one of the most expensive patients in a hospital, with some preterm infants staying in the NICU over 100 days.
Nutrition: The Overlooked Piece in Preterm Infant Health
More than 380,000 babies in the United States are born preterm annually, and according to the CDC, in 2018, one in 10 babies was born too early (before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Today, we can survive infants as early as 22 weeks gestational age.
Preterm infants require round-the-clock care in the NICU, including monitoring of their hearts, lungs and temperature. As survival rates for extremely preterm infants improve, attention is now being focused on improving the quality of survival. Optimal nutrition early in life can positively impact not only physical growth, but neurological development, as well.
However, nutrition is rarely taught in medical school and expertise is limited to dietitians, where present, or a clinical researcher who focuses on nutrition. Optimizing feeding and nutrition management in the NICU remains a major challenge for clinicians.
Implementing a standardized feeding strategy has been shown to improve growth outcomes in addition to reducing adverse events, however most NICUs are still using paper-based feeding protocols and require dieticians to make manual calculations using pen, paper and calculator.
This manual process has been the standard practice for decades. Not only does this provide room for error, it creates more work for clinical care teams and is a drain on hospital resources. While technology in support of life saving measures is rampant in the NICU, the utilization of software has been limited to the implementation of electronic medical record systems, such as Epic and Cerner. Investments in technological innovations have not extended to addressing feeding and nutritional support for the tiniest, most vulnerable patients.