Volunteers sought for study which could help parents of ill or premature babies

Volunteers sought for study which could help parents of ill or premature babies

Volunteers are being sought for a new study which aims to improve the experience of parents of ill or premature newborn babies.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen are developing a computer system - known as BabyTalk - that can generate easy to understand reports on the medical condition of babies in neonatal care.

These reports are updated every 24 hours and made available online to the infant’s parents, providing a simple summary of their child’s progress.

The system can produce two types of text for parents – one which accounts for them undergoing high levels of stress, and one which does not. 

The computer system can also send automatic updates to concerned family and friends on behalf of the parents, allowing them to share all or part of the summary of their baby’s condition.

Researchers are looking for parents from the North East, of Scotland, Tayside and Fife that have had a baby in neonatal care in the last ten years to try out the system.

Saad Mahamood from the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Computing – one of the researchers undertaking the study said: “When a baby is in a Neonatal Intensive Care or a Special Care Baby Unit it can be hard for parents to take in all of the complicated medical information and the treatment that their baby is being given.

“Our new computer system will produce secure automatic online updates about the baby so that parents can get news day and night, even when they are away from the ward.

“When a baby is in a neonatal ward, their medical details and information on interaction with nurses or family members is recorded in a database by the hospital.

Babytalk takes the information produced by this database and creates a simple text version of what has happened to the baby within the last 24 hours.

 “The text produced by the system is personalised to the baby’s condition and tailored to take into account whether the parents will be experiencing stressful or less stressful circumstances.   

“Whilst this does not replace talking to medical staff it does provide an extra source of information and support for the parents, helping to decrease their anxiety.”

Volunteers in the study will be asked to look at a range of short text reports about babies in neonatal care. They will then be asked to discuss how they feel on reading those reports.  

They will also be asked to try out the automated system which sends messages to family and friends.

Wendy Moncur, who is also part of the research team working on the study, has personal experience of having a sick newborn baby. 

Her son James – now 11 years old – developed pneumonia soon after birth. 

Wendy’s personal experience is partly what motivated her to carry out research into using computers to help improve other parents’ experience of having a sick baby.

Wendy said: “Very soon after James was born, he developed pneumonia. This led to him spending five days in a Special Care Baby Unit. I understand from first hand experience what a scary time it is when your child is in neonatal care.

“My personal experience combined with my academic and occupational background – I am a computer scientist and I have also worked for the National Childbirth Trust as an antenatal teacher – has been incredibly useful in helping develop this new technology. 

“We are looking for volunteers who have had personal experience of a baby in neonatal care to try out our system. They don’t need to know anything about computers to take part.

“The study is an opportunity to have input into technology which could improve the experience of parents whose babies are admitted into neonatal care in the future.”

Volunteers can take part in the study from home or by visiting the University of Aberdeen.

It should take no more than 40 minutes to take part, and no computer experience is required.

Those wishing to volunteer from the Aberdeen city and shire area should contact Saad Mahamood on 01224 274173 or saad.mahamood@abdn.ac.uk.

Those wishing to volunteer from the Tayside and Fife areas should contact Wendy Moncur on 01382 386538 or wmoncur@abdn.ac.uk.

For more information on the project visit http://www.csd.abdn.ac.uk/btfamily/