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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Strengths and weaknesses of parent–staff communication in the NICU: a survey assessment

Helena Wigert12*, Michaela Blom Dellenmark23 and Kristina Bry24

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Health and Care Sciences, The Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, Box 457, Gothenburg, SE 405 30, Sweden

2 Division of Neonatology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg, 416 85, Sweden

3 Division of Pediatric Emergency Care and Pediatric Surgery, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg, 416 85, Sweden

4 Department of Pediatrics, The Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, 416 85, Sweden

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BMC Pediatrics 2013, 13:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-71

Published: 7 May 2013



Parents of infants hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) find themselves in a situation of emotional strain. Communication in the NICU presents special challenges due to parental stress and the complexity of the highly technologized environment. Parents’ need for communication may not always be met by the NICU staff. This study aimed to describe strengths and weaknesses of parent–nurse and parent–doctor communication in a large level III NICU in Sweden in order to improve our understanding of parents’ communication needs.


Parents were asked to complete a survey consisting of sixteen questions about their experiences of communication with nurses and doctors in the NICU. In each question the parents evaluated some aspect of communication on a five- or six-point Likert scale. They also had the opportunity on each question to comment on their experiences in their own words. Data were analyzed using IBM SPSS Statistics 20.0 and qualitative manifest content analysis.


270 parents (71.4%) completed the survey. Parents generally rated communication with the staff in the NICU positively and appreciated having received emotional support and regular information about their child´s care. Although a large majority of the parents were satisfied with their communication with doctors and nurses, only about half of the parents felt the nurses and doctors understood their emotional situation very well. Some parents would have desired easier access to conversations with doctors and wanted medical information to be given directly by doctors rather than by nurses. Parents’ communication with the staff was hampered when many different nurses were involved in caring for the infant or when the transfer of information in connection with shift changes or between the maternity ward and NICU was poor. Parents also desired to be present during doctors’ rounds on their infant.


Training both doctors and nurses in communication skills, especially in how to meet parents’ emotional needs better, could make communication at the NICU more effective and improve parental well-being. Creating a framework for the parents of what to expect from NICU communication might also be helpful. In addition, our results support the use of primary nurse teams to improve continuity of care and thereby promote successful communication.

Parents’ experiences; Communication; Neonatal intensive care unit; Survey assessment