Parents' Experiences of Communication with Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit Staff: An Interview Study

Sunday, 8 November 2015: 11:00 AM

Helena Wigert, PhD, RN
Institute of Health and Care Sciences, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, S- 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Background: An infant’s admission to a neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) inevitably causes the parents emotional stress. Communication between parents and NICU staff is an essential part of the support offered to the parents and can reduce their emotional stress. To better meet the communication needs of parents, it is important to know how they experience communication with the staff at the NICU. The aim of this study was to describe parents’ experiences of communication with NICU staff.

Methods: A hermeneutic lifeworld interview study was performed with 18 families whose children were treated in the level III NICU at a university hospital in Sweden. The NICU has a family-centred care policy and parents are welcome to spend as much time as they want in the unit with their child. The interviews were analysed to gain an interpretation of the phenomenon of how parents in the NICU experienced their communication with the staff, in order to find new ways to understand their experience.

Results: Parents’ experience of communication with the staff during their infant’s stay at the NICU can be described by the main theme ‘being given attention or ignored in their emotional situation’. The main theme derives from three themes; (1) meeting a fellow human being, (2) being included or excluded as a parent and (3) bearing unwanted responsibility.

Conclusions: This study shows that parents experienced communication with the NICU staff as essential to their management of their situation. Attentive communication gives the parents relief in their trying circumstances. In contrast, lack of communication contributes to feelings of loneliness, abandonment and unwanted responsibility, which adds to the burden of an already difficult situation. The level of communication in meetings with staff can have a decisive influence on parents’ experiences of the NICU.

The staff should thus be reminded of their unique position to help parents handle their emotional difficulties. The organization should facilitate opportunities for good communication between parents and staff through training, staffing and the physical health care environment.