Palliative care (PC) in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is often provided exclusively to infants expected to die. Standards of care support providing PC early after diagnosis with any condition likely to impact quality of life.
To determine the state of early PC practice across populations to derive elements of early PC applicable to neonates and their families and demonstrate their application in practice.
Multiple literature searches were conducted from 2016 to 2019. Common keywords used were: palliative care; early PC; end of life, neonate; NICU; perinatal PC; pediatric PC; family-centered care; advanced care planning; palliative care consultant; and shared decision-making.
Early PC is an emerging practice in adult, pediatric, and perinatal populations that has been shown to be helpful for and recommended by families. Three key elements of early PC in the NICU are shared decision-making, care planning, and coping with distress. A hypothetical case of a 24-week infant is presented to illustrate how findings may be applied. Evidence supports expansion of neonatal PC to include infants and families without terminal diagnoses and initiation earlier in care.
Implications for Practice:
Involving parents more fully in care planning activities and decision-making and providing structured support for them to cope with distress despite their child's prognosis are essential to early PC.
Implications for Research:
As early PC is incorporated into practice, strategies should be evaluated for feasibility and efficacy to improve parental and neonatal outcomes. Researchers should consider engaging NICU parent stakeholders in leading early PC program development and research.