Internet Helps Parents of Preemies
Dec. 4, 2000 -- Parents struggling to deal with the
hospitalization of a premature newborn face frustrations and challenges that
they may never have imagined. They are often required to juggle jobs, the care
of older children, and other responsibilities for several months before their
babies are strong enough to go home.
Though it sounds paradoxical, a high-tech approach to
communications may help these families cope by creating a more personalized and
user-friendly experience according to a study from Harvard Medical School
published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"Most parents we see would love to spend every waking
minute with their child in the neonatal intensive care unit [or NICU], but that
is rarely possible," study author James E. Gray, MD, MS, of Harvard's Beth
Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, tells WebMD. "There are many
real-life realities that can separate parents from their babies, such as a need
to take care of other children or the need to return to work so that parental
leave can be saved for when the infant comes home."
Gray and colleagues report that parents who took part in a
telemedicine program utilizing the Internet and video-conferencing technologies
in the care of hospitalized very low birth weight infants were more satisfied
with the care their infants received than parents who were not offered the
"We use telemedicine in several different ways," Gray
says. "It allows families to reach into the neonatal intensive care unit
while a baby is hospitalized and interact with staff and learn the skills they
need to take care of the infant. But it also allows them to have virtual visits
and, for example, give a virtual goodnight kiss when they aren't able to be
there for real. You can't downplay the significance of this."
The study, funded by the National Library of Medicine's
Telemedicine Initiative, included 26 families given access to the electronic
program, dubbed Baby CareLink, and 30 families who received identical medical
care but did not have the electronic support.
Families enrolled in the program were loaned computer and
videoconferencing equipment for use in their homes. By accessing the secure,
password-protected Baby CareLink web site, family members were provided with
daily clinical updates on their infants. They could also view their babies at
various points during the day, and leave messages and question for health care
providers. The web site also included educational materials, information for
older siblings, and detailed instruction on how to prepare for the infant's
discharge from the hospital.
Researchers found that parents with access used the electronic
system daily, mostly looking at their infant's home page and the photograph
gallery but also taking advantage of educational materials and the opportunity
to ask questions of staffers online.