ATLANTA – In just 7 months, the University of North Carolina Children’s Hospital, Chapel Hill, dropped the length of stay for neonatal abstinence syndrome from about 11 days to 5 days by moving from scheduled to PRN morphine dosing and abandoning the Finnegan score, according to a report at the Pediatric Hospital Medicine meeting.
The use of morphine fell from 93% of infants transferred to the hospital’s inpatient floors for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) to just 12%, with no downsides for infants or moms.
“Our results have been incredibly encouraging,” said lead investigator and pediatrics resident. The take-home message is to treat the infant, rather than relying on the Finnegan score.
UNC Children’s, which treats about 50 infants a year for NAS on its inpatient floors, had been using the traditional approach: babies were automatically scheduled for morphine and– a withdrawal symptom checklist – every 4 hours, regardless of need. Sometimes infants weren’t even assessed to see if they actually needed morphine before the next dose was given.
“Waking babies up every 4 hours just seemed crazy; of course, they were going to have heightened neurologic signs and symptoms.” Meanwhile, families and providers were frustrated that infants who were otherwise doing well were held for an extra week or more to wean them off morphine, Dr. Blount said at the meeting.
In Nov. 2017, the hospital switched tofor NAS on its inpatient floors. The model emphasizes what’s been shown to work in recent years: keeping the infant with the mother; encouraging breast feeding, skin-on-skin contact, and other comfort measures; and supplementing feeds to help with weight gain. Morphine is reserved for when those measures fail and given only with a needs assessment (Hosp Pediatr. 2018 Jan;8(1):1-6).
The hospital ditched Finnegan scoring on its inpatient floors. Nurses were asked instead to check if infants were feeding adequately, sleeping at least an hour between feedings, and able to be consoled within 10 minutes when upset. If the infants met all three of those ESC criteria, providers moved on. They left the baby swaddled, relied on ambient white noise of ocean waves, and checked back on them later. “They didn’t mess with them,” Dr. Blount said at the meeting, sponsored by the Society of Hospital Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academic Pediatric Association.
Finnegan scoring “was causing so much anxiety. Staff and families became hypervigilant,” set off by every little twitch and yawn the baby made. It was a good thing when it was abandoned; everyone relaxed, he said.
The changes made a huge difference. The average number of morphine doses dropped from 39 per infant to just 7 total doses among 23 infants in the first 7 months of the ESC initiative. Currently, morphine is used in only about 1 of 10 cases. “We estimate that we’ve given over 900 fewer doses” since ESC was put in place, Dr. Blount said.
There’s been no change in 30-day readmission rates – just one since the changes were made, for bronchiolitis – and no change in weight loss among infants with NAS. Babies are meeting all the ESC criteria to thrive.
“We had a lot of pushback initially, mostly from nursing staff and residents wondering how this was going to work. It quickly went away,” Dr. Blount said.
His team is now considering rolling ESC out to the newborn nursery and NICU.
There was no industry funding for the work, and Dr. Blount didn’t have any disclosures.