For parents whose children are sick at birth, watching their newborn being cared for by unfamiliar hospital staff can be an isolating experience.
In those first few days, weeks and months, the bond between parent and child is at its strongest. But when babies are born prematurely, traditional care models tend to take control away from the family.
Now parents are being given the chance to play a bigger role in caring for their child, with the aid of a new mobile app.
Funded by Imperial Health Charity, the app is part of a pioneering new approach designed to teach parents how to wash, feed and observe their child as well as administer medical care under nurses’ supervision.
The aim is to reduce anxiety for both parent and child and strengthen the familial bonding process beyond the hospital walls.
“We had feedback in the traditional care model that parents don’t feel like parents,” said Aniko Deierl, consultant neonatologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
“They feel like visitors or spectators in the neonatal unit and it’s only one or two weeks before discharge that the neonatal team says to the parents, ‘now you need to get involved because you’re going home’. That can be very scary for them.”
The Integrated Family Delivered Care app, currently available for the iPhone and iPad, provides accurate medical information that parents can rely on for support. It also allows parents to record their baby’s progress and share it with others.
As part of the process, parents undergo supervised training and competency assessments to ensure they are confident in caring for their child.
Although the app is the first of its kind, similar patient-delivered approaches have been successful around the world.
Jay Banerjee, a fellow neonatal consultant at the Trust, became interested in the potential of family integrated care after learning from a pilot carried out at Toronto’s Mt Sinai Hospital.
“It’s a really low-cost and high-output programme where the patient as well as the baby can really benefit,” he said.
Imperial Health Charity awarded a grant of £180,000 to cover the cost of developing and maintaining the app. The funding also paid for two project coordinator roles and the recruitment of a psychology assistant.
Currently up and running for patients at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, the project will soon be brought to St Mary’s and is already being rolled out to other parts of the UK.
Ian Lush, chief executive at Imperial Health Charity, said: “We are delighted to be supporting this project, which helps parents of premature babies feel less isolated and confused at what is a very stressful time.
“The app helps them to communicate with family and friends as their baby progresses, while the involvement in the daily care of their baby is proven to bring real benefits to the baby and parents alike.”
The app is currently available for iPhone and iPad. An Android version is expected to be released later this year.