Background: Endotracheal suctioning (ETS) for mechanically ventilated premature infants is a routine practice in neonatal intensive care. However, ETS is associated with hypoxemia and bradycardia, which may cause brain damage and negatively affect neurodevelopmental outcomes. Purpose: This study develops a set of evidence-based clinical-practice ETS guidelines for premature infants. Methods: A multidisciplinary task group at a medical center in southern Taiwan was established. Team members analyzed current ETS practice guidelines, constructed foreground questions, reviewed each question systemically, drafted a new set of guidelines, established expert consensus, disseminated the developed guidelines within a hospital setting, and evaluated their efficacy in practice. Results: The developed ETS guidelines address 13 issues with 39 recommendations. The Delphi method found that 75% of experts agreed with all of the recommendations. Issues addressed in the ETS included pre-assessment, frequency of suctioning, pre-oxygenation, suction-tube selection, infection control, suction pressure and depth decision making, humidity with normal saline, suction duration and number, containment and comforting, assessment during and after suctioning, recovery time, and documentation. The panel of clinical and methodological experts recommended that ETS be used in practice and nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit evaluated the ETS as applicable and accessible. The cardiorespiratory responses to ETS of 5 premature infants were within normal ranges without episodes of hypoxemia (oxygen saturation < 85%) or bradycardia (heart rate < 100 beat/min). Conclusions: This set of evidence-based ETS guidelines for premature infants integrated recommendations from the best available literature and obtained a high consensus among clinical experts. Thus, these guidelines are recommended for clinical application.
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