Healthier preemies and parents, thanks to a new early intervention program

PHOENIX (Nov. 1, 2006) -- A program designed to help parents care for their premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can lead to healthier babies and parents, and save more than $2 billion in U.S. healthcare costs annually.

A new study published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics shows that an educational-behavioral program called Creating Opportunities for Parent Empowerment (COPE) can improve the mental health of parents and decrease the length of stay in the NICU by four to eight days for premature infants.

Based on the 480,000 premature infants born in the United States annually, potential healthcare savings could total $2.4 billion if the program were implemented as standard practice in NICUs, according to the study's authors. The average per day hospitalization cost for infants in the NICU is approximately $1,250.

"Prior evidence suggests low-birth-weight infants experience adverse physical, mental and behavioral outcomes that persist beyond school age," says the study's lead author, Bernadette Melnyk, RN, FAAN, dean and Distinguished Foundation Professor in Nursing at Arizona State University's College of Nursing & Healthcare Innovation. "Parents of preterm infants also experience high stress levels and are usually inadequately prepared for the experience. When parents are stressed, anxious or depressed the result is increased rates of dysfunctional and over-protective parenting."

Interventions to enhance coping and mental health outcomes in parents or premature infants have lagged behind the rapid technological advances to sustain survival in the NICUs, adds Melnyk.

The National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Nursing Research funded the study. It involved a randomized clinical trial from 2001 to 2004 conducted with 260 families with preterm infants in two NICUs in the northeast United States.

All families received four intervention sessions of audiotap

Contact: Terry Olbrysh
Arizona State University

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