Measuring and communicating meaningful outcomes in neonatology: A family perspective

Semin Perinatol. 2016 Dec;40(8):571-577. doi: 10.1053/j.semperi.2016.09.009. Epub 2016 Oct 26.


Medium- and long-term outcomes have been collected and described among survivors of neonatal intensive care units for decades, for a number of purposes: (1) quality control within units, (2) comparisons of outcomes between NICUs, (3) clinical trials (whether an intervention improves outcomes), (4) end-of-life decision-making, (5) to better understand the effects of neonatal conditions and/or interventions on organs and/or long-term health, and finally (6) to better prepare parents for the future. However, the outcomes evaluated have been selected by investigators, based on feasibility, availability, cost, stability, and on what investigators consider to be important. Many of the routinely measured outcomes have major limitations: they may not correlate well with long-term difficulties, they may artificially divide continuous outcomes into dichotomous ones, and may have no clear relationship with quality of life and functioning of children and their families. Several investigations, such as routine term cerebral resonance imaging for preterm infants, have also not yet been shown to improve the outcome of children nor their families. In this article, the most common variables used in neonatology as well as some variables which are rarely measured but may be of equal importance for families are presented. The manner in which these outcomes are communicated to families will be examined, as well as recommendations to optimize communication with parents.

Keywords: Communication; Congenital anomalies; Disability; Empathy; End-of-life decisions; Extreme prematurity; Family-centered care; Life-sustaining interventions; Neonatal intensive care unit; Palliative care; Screening.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benchmarking
  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Emotions
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Health Services Research*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / psychology
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / therapy*
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal* / standards
  • Neonatology*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Palliative Care* / standards
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Professional-Family Relations* / ethics
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Quality of Life