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Evidence for Implementation Strategies to Provide Palliative Care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Quinn, Megan BSN, RN; Gephart, Sheila PhD, RN

Section Editor(s): Gephart, Sheila

doi: 10.1097/ANC.0000000000000354
Evidence-Based Practice Brief

Background: Palliative care is a holistic framework that is designed to improve quality of life by identifying and treating distressing symptoms of life-threatening or complex conditions. Neonatal palliative care (NPC) has potential benefits for parents, staff, and patients, yet evidence suggests that implementation and utilization of organized NPC services are low.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to answer the clinical question: In neonatal intensive care, what evidence can be used to guide implementation of palliative care protocols?

Search Strategy: A literature search was conducted using CINAHL (Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature), PubMed, and the Cochrane Library databases. Publications with a focus on neonates, neonatal intensive care unit, and implementation or evaluation of a palliative care protocol, team, or educational intervention were retained.

Results: The search yielded 17 articles that fit with the following themes: NPC protocols or teams (n = 8), healthcare team needs (n = 3), and barriers to implementation (n = 6). Approaches to NPC implementation were varied, and outcome data were inconsistently reported. Healthcare team members cited a need for education and consistent, ethical delivery of NPC. Common barriers were identified as lack of NPC education, poor communication, and lack of adequate resources such as staff and space.

Implications for Practice and Research: Successful team approaches included standardized order sets to initiate NPC, NPC education for staff, and references to NPC guidelines or protocols. Barriers such as lack of interdisciplinary cooperation, lack of appropriate physical space, and lack of education should be addressed during program development. Further research priorities for NPC include seeking parent perceptions, shifting focus from mostly end-of-life to an integrated model, and collecting outcome data with rigor and consistency.

The University of Arizona College of Nursing, Tucson (Ms Quinn and Dr Gephart); and Banner Health, Cardon Children's Medical Center, Mesa, Arizona (Ms Quinn).

Correspondence: Megan Quinn, BSN, RN, PO Box 210203 Tucson, AZ 85721 (

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Dr. Gephart, who is a section editor for Advances in Neonatal Care and the coauthor and mentor to the primary author, was not involved in the editorial review or decision to publish this article. The entire process from submission, referee assignment, and editorial decisions was handled by other members of the editorial team for the journal.

© 2016 by The National Association of Neonatal Nurses