Beth DuFault, University at Albany – Improving the Patient Experience in the NICU

On University at Albany Week: We can improve parents’ experience in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Beth DuFault, assistant professor in the department of marketing, details how one overseas ICU handles parents.

Beth Leavenworth DuFault is Assistant Professor of Marketing at University at Albany, State University of New York. Beth’s academic background is in marketing and economic/cultural sociology. She studies cultural change, specifically in the areas of quantification of consumer and society, transition of health care markets to consumerism, and institutions salient to consumer identity.

Improving the Patient Experience in the NICU


Parents whose newborn is admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit often find themselves in an unfamiliar world with ominous-looking medical equipment and an unsettling soundtrack of alarms.  The NICU experience has been correlated with a higher rate of postpartum depression, and the experience of P-T-S-D.

My colleagues and I are exploring how to improve the parent experience in the N-I-C-U. One concept in improving patient experience is that of “co-creation”—that is, the interaction between staff, patients, and families as all work toward a desired outcome. From the public health perspective alone, this form of collaborative effort in the NICU is an important one to study.

We found that parents attempting to integrate into the N-I-C-U environment may start to think of their participation in their baby’s care like a medical provider. This medicalization became a long-lasting part of many parents’ identities. Some parents were proud of their new medical competencies, but all communicated distress when recounting their N-I-C-U experience. 

In one Finnish N-I-C-U that we studied, however, the parents did not medicalize, and communicated significantly less distress. This N-I-C-U had instituted a program called Close Collaboration with Parents. In this program, the medical staff learns to support parents in their parenting role, rather than training parents to support medical care. Staff is also trained to welcome and prioritize the role of “parent” as an integrally important part of the care team.

We theorize the better parent experience is because their co-creative role in the N-I-C-U was aligned with the role expectations of being a parent that they held before birth.

We hope that this research serves to generate more understanding of co-creation in medical environments, and to continue to improve the parent experience in the N-I-C-U.

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