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 UAMS’ Shannon Lewis and Sarah Rhoads, coordinator of the Web camera program
UAMS’ Shannon Lewis and Sarah Rhoads,
coordinator of the Web camera program,
observe a baby in the NICU.

Jan. 28, 2009 | Each of the roughly 2,000 mothers who deliver at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) every year hopes to leave the hospital with her newborn. But sometimes that's not possible.

When babies must remain in intensive care, the heart-wrenching separation with parents is often unavoidable, usually because parents live out of town and can't afford to miss work.

To help parents cope, and to help them bond with their newborns, UAMS is installing Web-based video cameras in 15 of the 58 private rooms of the new UAMS hospital. The cameras can provide live video of the hospitalized infants to parents or other family members anywhere they have Internet access.

Funding for the program, called Neonatal WAVES (Web-based Audio Video Education Support), comes from a $31,750 grant from the Gertrude E. Skelly Charitable Foundation.

The Neonatal WAVES program builds on the UAMS ANGELS 2006 pilot project that also provided live Web video of infants to parents. The program was the first in the United States to deliver real-time video of hospitalized infants directly to their remote families.

The program was created by Curtis Lowery, M.D., chairman of the UAMS Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. ANGELS is an acronym for another Lowery program – Antenatal and Neonatal Guidelines, Education and Learning System – a nationally recognized telemedicine program for women with high-risk pregnancies in remote areas of Arkansas.

“Because so many of our new families live outside central Arkansas, circumstances often prevent them from spending as much time as they would like with their new baby,” Lowery said. “Parent-child bonding is so essential in the early weeks of a baby’s life, and we believe that even just seeing your child on a computer screen helps in that process.”

The 15 cameras bought with the WAVES grant will have audio, so that parents can also talk to their babies, the nurses or each other if one parent is in the hospital room and the other is home. Priority for the bedside cameras will go to “micro-preemie” babies as they lie in their Isolettes. Micro-preemie babies are less than three pounds and generally delivered before 29 weeks gestation, and their conditions require some of the lengthiest hospital stays. The Neonatal WAVES wall-mounted cameras will be installed in March and will provide the real-time audio/video feed to a Web site accessible only to family and selected hospital staff.

UAMS expects the program will reap numerous benefits for families and, in turn, society as a whole.

“What this means for families is invaluable when you consider its many tangible effects on the long-term physical and emotional health of both the baby and the parents,” said UAMS’ Sarah Rhoads, a doctor of nursing practice, advanced practice nurse and coordinator for the WAVES program. “We believe the program will improve bonding between the mother and baby, improve communication between parents and the NICU staff, reduce stress and anxiety for the parents, and improve the on-going management of our chronically ill infants.”

A researcher in the UAMS College of Nursing is collaborating with the NICU staff to study the effects of this technology on babies and families. Ultimately, UAMS Neonatal WAVES should become a model for neonatal intensive care units across the globe.

“The UAMS ANGELS program will help spread the word about the WAVES program through its presentations at scientific conferences, publishing in medical and nursing journals, and collaboration with other health care innovators,” Lowery said. “All of these efforts will help disseminate the Neonatal WAVES concept and results, which will improve chances for its use, and place a new emphasis on family-centered care in NICU nursing.”

In addition, the grant will pay for equipment to help monitor noise levels in 15 NICU rooms. The monitors are programmed for the amount of noise that each individual baby can safely tolerate. If the noise level goes above what is programmed, a light will signal those in the room to lower their voices.

“Sleep deprivation is a serious problem in preterm babies,” said Whit Hall, professor of pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine. “We want to provide minimal stimulation to keep them calm and decrease their stress.”

As a baby ages, his or her noise tolerance is increased, and the monitors are adjusted as needed.

“All of the advances that we added to our new NICU are designed to help the babies bond with their parents and get better rest so they can hopefully grow a little bit faster,” Hall said.  “It should be a much better quality stay for the parents and the babies.”

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