CHOC Surgical NICU Reduces Post-Op Hypothermia in Infants

Consistent, standardized efforts across several disciplines helped CHOC Children’s reduce rates of post-operative hypothermia in neonates by nearly 88 percent, results of a quality improvement project show.

Staff decreased the number of babies who returned to the Surgical Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with body temperatures below 36 degrees Celsius from 10.7 percent to 1.3 percent following surgeries between September 2014 and August 2015.

Due to high body surface area, infants undergoing surgery are at risk for hypothermia, especially premature infants with decreased subcutaneous and brown fat. Hypothermia-induced vasoconstriction can lead to impaired wound healing, surgical site infections, impaired coagulation and decreased drug metabolisms, which can collectively increase perioperative morbidity, said Dr. Irfan Ahmad, co-director of the unit.

Though CHOC’s baseline figure was well below the national average rate of 15.6 percent, reducing post-operative hypothermia rates wasmock-surgery-1 identified as an area for quality improvement for the Surgical NICU and staff set out to reduce rates by half, Dr. Ahmad said.

Involving a cross-disciplinary team including nurses, neonatologists, surgeons and anesthesiologists, the project tracked 76 patients. Because infants can be at risk for hypothermia before surgery, intra-operatively and post-operatively, their temperatures were tracked during each operative stage. Staff were then able to identify problem areas and make improvements over each quarter.

Dr. Ahmad attributed the success to consistently implementing measures such as ensuring patients wore hats and blankets while headed to the operating room; pre-warming transport isolettes before placing babies inside; and using intra-operative heating devices during procedures.

Dr. Ahmad presented this data earlier this month to a quality congress held by the Vermont Oxford Network, a nonprofit, voluntary collaboration of health care professionals dedicated to the quality and safety of medical care for newborns and their families.

CHOC established its Surgical NICU in October 2013, and remains one of a handful of hospitals nationwide to cohort infants needing and recovering from surgery in a dedicated space.

Surgical NICU patients receive care from a multidisciplimock-surgery-4nary team that includes neonatologists, surgeons and many other clinicians. The surgical NICU team cares for patients jointly, discussing the cases as a group and forming a treatment plan that often calls for the expertise of other specialties.

Patients and families are a key component of the surgical NICU care team, collaborating and partnering with clinicians on every stage of the patient’s care.

The Surgical NICU rounds out CHOC’s expansive suite of services for neonates, including a main NICU; the Small Baby Unit, where infants with extremely low birth weights receive coordinated care; the Neurocritical NICU, where babies with neurological problems are cohorted; and the Cardiac NICU, which provides comprehensive care for neonates with congenital heart defects.

Learn more about CHOC’s neonatal services.