Products and Technology in Healthcare: 7 Ways to Become An Informed NICU Professional

By Sue Ludwig

Think about every non-human thing that comes in contact with babies in the NICU.

Leads, IVs, feeding tubes, tape, diapers, positioning aids, scopes, oxygen tubing, ETTs, CPAP, more tape, pacifiers, dressings, and more. A lot of stuff, right?

As professional caregivers we’re fairly picky about the products and technologies we use. As we should be. Our patients are some of the most fragile in healthcare and it’s our job, alongside their parents, to protect them while they go about the business of growing, developing, and healing.

What’s amazing is the amount of technology we’re asked to master. And then re-master when the newer version arrives. And so on. Because technology never stops evolving and products never stop being tweaked. It can be overwhelming right?

But here’s the thing: we can’t ignore it. The level of innovation involved in NICU-specific products and technologies is shifting. Higher tech monitors and beds, feeding technology and equipment, live video, sound abatement, dynamic positioning aids, parent apps and more. We are experiencing the tip of the iceberg.

Consider the technological advances in our regular lives – the internet didn’t exist when I was in college. Now I get frustrated if the high-powered computer I carry in my pocket takes longer than 3 seconds to stream live video of an event taking place halfway across the world. I mean seriously, I need to get over myself. Point being, things are moving quickly.

What’s cool about medical technology is it can provide an objective reflection of what’s going on inside of a human that we can pair with our incredibly sensitive observation and assessment skills. Or it can facilitate or enhance a process that shortens time to healing or aids development.

What’s not cool is how we (professional caregivers) sometimes dismiss new products or technologies WITHOUT or BEFORE understanding them. I mention this because with more technology and NICU-specific products coming to market than ever, I notice this trend:

  • CLINICIAN is overwhelmed by all the new products, technologies and services available for their patients (I totally get this).
  • CLINICIAN must go to bat for any new product or service and then prove that it saves the hospital money, is safe for the NICU, improves outcomes, is unlike anything the hospital already has, decreases length of stay without compromising safety or revenue, and aligns with the hospital’s payer mix. (And don’t even ask for it until FY 2020 because the budget is in a state of chaos.)
  • CLINICIAN sighs with exhaustion.
  • CLINICIAN can’t let go of the fact that product/technology might actually help her patients in the short and long-term. She recalls that part of her unspoken job description is PATIENT ADVOCATE.
  • CLINICIAN seeks ‘expert’ advice about product/technology so she can decide if it’s worth the battle.

HOLD THE PHONE – because here’s where CLINICIAN gets stuck sometimes:

  • CLINICIAN reads a blog post or a list-serve comment by ‘Someone Whoknowsmore’. Someone Whoknowsmore dismisses the product/technology/service in a matter of sentences or paragraphs.

This might be reasonable, if the claims Someone Whoknowsmore are based on facts or sound research and are reported in entirety. But most often, they are based on opinion, impression, and perspective. Sometimes, in fact, Someone Whoknowsmore is dead wrong. (Which, by the way, puts Someone Whoknowsmore at legal risk.)

I’m not suggesting that we stop sharing information or perspectives – especially when there is a paucity of evidence about said product, service, or technology. I’m suggesting that we become informed and proactive consumers.

Here are 7 ways to stay informed:

  1. Seek information from more than one credible source. Fine to include Someone Whoknowsmore’s advice in the mix, but don’t RELY on it as truth, because it may not be. Include the company that produces the product as ONE of the sources. Not the only one, but one. They often have clinical specialists that can answer your complex questions better than anyone in the universe.
  2. Ask for referrals to other NICUs who have used the technology, product, or service. Call them. (Call more than one of them. Each NICU has inherent strengths challenges so seek a broad spectrum.)
  3. When presented with a new product, set an intention to be open-minded versus pre-deciding that you know everything about it. This new thing might be just what your patients need or what you need in your own toolbox of options for a certain population or situation. (NOTE: Many therapists have the opposite disposition which limits their knowledge base. After researching or trialing it, if they discover the product is NOT a fit for their unit, at least they’ve learned something important along the way, which contributes to their value and expertise.)
  4. Consider the patients you work with. Can you RULE OUT the possibility that they could benefit from the product or service?
  5. Establish that it is safe to use in the NICU. Has the product received FDA approval if necessary?
  6. Do the math. Does the fee make sense for its unique offering? Is this product an expense for the NICU or is it reimbursable – and by what payer mix? Does the product eliminate another cost?
  7. Evaluate new products and services as a team. A team helps safeguard against any one person’s opinion or bias skewing the process. Including a former NICU parent in this team brings a well-rounded perspective.

The most fascinating part of all of this is that there’s so much we don’t know about premature and/or sick infants – about any population that is pre-verbal or nonverbal. And we may just live long enough to understand them better. To help them more. To not only save lives, but improve them.

From what I know about you, you’re certainly willing to leave your mind open for that.

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