New data collected on NICU babies could improve treatment, detect problems

Megan Harris with her daughter, RaeLynne, who was born premature. (KXAN Photo/Erin Cargile)
Megan Harris with her daughter, RaeLynne, who was born premature. (KXAN Photo/Erin Cargile)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — New equipment has been installed in local hospital rooms to improve health care for premature babies.

The Seton Healthcare Family and Dell Medical School at UT Austin are teaming up to collect and utilize medical information that, until now, has lived on a patient’s medical chart.

“We’re calling it the neo-natal data warehouse,” said Michael Minks, chief information officer with Seton Healthcare Family.

Special monitors were added to two Seton neonatal intensive care units which collect a baby’s vital signs like heart rate and temperature, and feed it directly to a supercomputer. The data will be hosted by the Texas Advanced Computer Center.

“We are going to use some of the super computers that are available through UT to actually start looking at that data like it’s weather data — start looking for patterns that a human being wouldn’t normally be able to see,” said Minks.

He says a project like this has never been done on this scale. Those patterns could take the guess work and experimentation out of treatment, and make doctors and nurses more precise.

“It will get the babies out of the NICU faster,” said Minks. “It will make them healthier in the long run which is really what we’re trying to do.”

In the short term, it could pinpoint the best treatment during a child’s hospital stay. In the long term, it could let parents know if conditions like autism and cerebral palsy may appear later in life.

“I think that would be amazing to have that technology,” said Megan Harris. “And I think all of the NICU moms would agree.”

Harris had two of her three children in the NICU during the first days of their lives. Her 3-year-old son, Weston, was there for 31 days after he was born at 33 weeks, and her 4-month-old daughter, RaeLynne, was born at 34 weeks and spent 16 days in the NICU.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster I don’t wish it upon anybody, it’s rough,” said Harris.

The monitors have been installed in two Seton neonatal intensive care units. The next step is getting the data warehouse up and running and then Seton will start to feed information into it.

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