Exploring Parent Experience of Communication About Therapeutic Hypothermia in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

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Abstract

Background:

The unique communication challenges faced by parents of infants undergoing therapeutic hypothermia have not been well characterized.

Purpose:

To develop awareness of communication challenges experienced by families of infants treated with therapeutic hypothermia.

Methods:

Semistructured interviews were conducted in a group setting with parents matched into groups according to the severity of the infant's presenting encephalopathy. The interviews were transcribed and coded into principal and additional subthemes.

Results:

Thirty adults were interviewed including 15 mothers, 12 fathers, 2 grandmothers, and 1 grandfather. The 15 infants were between 2 and 24 months of age at the time of the interviews. The principal theme of communication included the following 3 subthemes; transparency, consistency, and delivery style. Parents reported a strong desire for improved early and transparent communication about therapeutic hypothermia, particularly during transfer from an outside hospital. Parents also reported a preference for consistent communication and highlighted parental touch of the hypothermic infant, obstetrical nurse-to-neonatal intensive care unit nurse communication, and parent and visitor presence in the infant's room as areas in need of greater communication consistency. Parents valued direct and compassionate communication styles that excluded medical jargon.

Implications for Practice:

All providers can implement recommendations for communication to parents of infants treated with therapeutic hypothermia by increasing transparency, developing greater consistency in the communication delivered, and employing a direct and compassionate style to improve the parental experience of therapeutic hypothermia.

Implications for Research:

Further investigation is needed into the specific challenges parents face with a lack of transparent communication prior to the transfer of an infant for therapeutic hypothermia.

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