Watching your child receive a needle can be overwhelming for any parent, especially when your baby is just hours old. Imagine if innovation was able to spare your baby even one needle poke? This is what has happened thanks to a determined multidisciplinary team of Saskatoon Health Region employees and physicians.

“Anything we can do to reduce the amount of times a child receives a needle while still providing reliable clinical information is something worth pursing,” says Dr. Krista Baerg with pediatrics. Baerg is part of a working group responsible for a new Jaundice Screening Program in Saskatoon Health Region launched on April 29. The group includes representation from Laboratory, Maternal & Newborn Care Unit and Healthy & Home.

Traditionally, nurses have to “heel poke” a newborn for a blood test to tell physicians if a baby is developing severe jaundice. Jaundice is a condition where a baby’s skin turns yellow because a high amount of bilirubin is produced or because the liver can’t get rid of it quickly enough. While mild jaundice is quite common, more severe cases require phototherapy to prevent dangerous consequences including seizures or serious developmental delay.

Linda Wright, a registered nurse with Royal University Hospital's maternal and newborn care unit, demonstrates the new transcutaneous bilirubin meters under very watchful eyes!

Linda Wright, a registered nurse with Royal University Hospital’s maternal and newborn care unit, demonstrates the new transcutaneous bilirubin meters under very watchful eyes!

But now, Royal University Hospital’s Maternal and Newborn Care Unit and Healthy and Home Program have started using transcutaneous bilirubin meters.

“We have found an alternative with these meters,” says Baerg. “The skin reading provides immediate results that can help determine if more testing is needed and identify infants that may need to begin treatment.”

By placing the meter on the baby’s chest, light waves provide a bilirubin reading within seconds. Nurses use the reading to monitor jaundice levels, and it’s all done without a heel poke.

“I am very excited to be using the meters,” explains Hilda Guentner, a registered nurse in the Maternal and Newborn Care unit. “It’s a quick non-invasive procedure. If the result is within an acceptable limit, we no longer have to collect blood for bilirubin testing which is much less traumatic for babies, parents and nurses.”

In the fall of 2012, employees and physicians established the Newborn Jaundice Working Group and began researching alternatives to traditional blood testing for jaundice. They found a similar program in Calgary. With the support of a $44,100 grant from Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan, the group purchased meters and began developing protocols to ensure the safety of the new test and established a screening program for newborns who were over 38 weeks of gestation. They compared 909 bilirubin readings to the Health Region’s lab standards to ensure precision and accuracy.

“We are very excited about the implementation of the new screening program,” says Dr. Martha Lyon, a Health Region clinical biochemist who was part of the project in Calgary and has been helping with the successful launch. “The extraordinary usefulness of the meters to assist with early detection of jaundice will be a welcome addition to help promote neonatal health.”

“I really appreciate the level of commitment to problem-solving that this multidisciplinary team has worked on in all areas from the lab to the maternal & newborn care unit to H&H and ultimately to the newborn to ensure they are receiving less painful blood draws,” says Julie-Smith-Fehr, Saskatoon Health Region’s manager of Maternal and Newborn Care Unit and Healthy and Home program.

The meters are used both within the hospital and at home by Healthy and Home nurses. As the program expands, the working group hopes to gather more donations to purchase five additional meters because they know this innovation is making a difference.

“I think this a really positive thing,” says parent Sandra Orr whose first baby had developed significant jaundice and required multiple heel pokes. “I am so glad that Watson didn’t need to have as many heel pokes as our first baby did. The Healthy and Home nurses did follow us closely even after we went home, but he was spared the painful heel pokes.”