Therapy Usage in the NICU
Ross, K., Heiny, E., Conner, S., Spener, P., & Pineda, R. (2017). Occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology in the neonatal intensive care unit: Patterns of therapy usage in a level IV NICU. Research in developmental disabilities, 64, 108-117.
This article by Bobbi Pineda OTR and her colleagues provides valuable information about utilization of therapy services in a large NICU. It provides insight into referral patterns and supports the concept of early and continued therapy services throughout the NICU stay to optimize outcomes. While their findings are not necessarily generalizable to other NICUs, this is the first attempt to gather such data.
It is worrisome to me that for those NICUs in which SLPs support feeding, referrals are often not received until > 36 weeks PMA. By that time, many of our fragile preterms (with complex co-morbidities) have already struggled learning to feed and may be referred at that time for extra support to “fix them”. In NICUs where PT/OT support feeding, they are typically already following the infants when feeding readiness is a focus, so for those infants whose team is likely to require extra support for feeding, it is already in place. My hope is that there will be greater recognition of the importance of early additional feeding support to the team for those preterm infants at the highest risk for enduring feeding problems, as profiled in the literature. The complex nature of their poor feeding often requires a team approach to avoid maladaptive behaviors and airway invasion. More research is needed to explore this concept and articulate infant needs for support related to co-morbidities.