Ensuring Accurate Knowledge of Prematurity Outcomes for Prenatal Counseling
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OBJECTIVES: To determine the accuracy of knowledge of different health care providers regarding survival and long-term morbidity rates for very premature infants and to examine whether a focused educational intervention improves the accuracy of this knowledge and influences health care decisions. METHODS: Using hypothetical case scenarios with infants at < or =28 weeks of gestation, we surveyed a variety of caregivers involved in perinatal communication and decision-making processes at a tertiary center that provides intensive care for neonates. We asked physicians from the pediatrics and obstetrics services and nurses and nurse practitioners from the NICU and obstetrics ward for their best estimates of survival and major long-term disability rates and for their opinions regarding the appropriateness of resuscitation and life support at each week of gestation of <29 weeks. After the survey, we educated all providers about current data on survival and long-term disability rates for preterm infants and gave them pocket-sized cards summarizing this information for reference during prenatal counseling. One month after the educational intervention and complete dissemination of the cards, a questionnaire with questions identical to those in the first survey was mailed to the same individuals. RESULTS: Fifty-one health care providers were involved in the baseline survey. The response rates for the postintervention survey were 100% for physicians (20 of 20 subjects) and nurses (20 of 20 subjects) and 91% (10 of 11 subjects) for the nurse practitioners. In the baseline survey, statistically significant underestimates of survival rates were seen for physicians and nurses at 23 to 28 weeks of gestation and for nurse practitioners at 23 to 27 weeks of gestation. Statistically significant overestimates of disability rates were seen for physicians and nurse practitioners at < or =26 weeks of gestation and for nurses at < or =28 weeks of gestation. After the intervention, respondents demonstrated significant improvements in the accuracy of survival and disability estimates at many, but not all, gestational ages. Although underestimation of survival rates and overestimation of disability rates decreased after the intervention, it persisted to some degree. After the intervention, a larger proportion of physicians (53% vs 21%) and a smaller proportion of nurses (10% vs 37%) were likely to recommend resuscitation for infants born at 23 weeks of gestation. CONCLUSIONS: Physicians, nurses, and nurse practitioners underestimated survival rates and overestimated long-term disability rates for very premature infants. After education, their estimates of survival and long-term disability rates for these infants improved significantly. More accurate estimates of survival and disability rates affected physicians' and nurses' theoretical decision-making regarding the appropriateness of resuscitation at 23 weeks of gestation.
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