The functions of adequate communication in the neonatal care unit: A systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative research

Willem jan W. Wreesmann, Esther S. Lorié, Nicole R. van Veenendaal, Anne A.M.W. van Kempen, Johannes C.F. Ket, Nanon H.M. Labrie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: To assess the main functions of parent-provider communication in the neonatal (intensive) care unit (NICU) and determine what adequate communication entails according to both parents and health professionals. Methods: A systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative research. PubMed, Ebsco/PsycINFO, Wiley/Cochrane Library, Ebsco/CINAHL, Clarivate Analytics/Web of Science Core Collection, and Elsevier/Scopus were searched in October-November 2019 for records on interpersonal communication between parents and providers in neonatal care. Title/abstract screening and full-text analysis were conducted by multiple, independent coders. Data from included articles were analyzed using deductive and inductive thematic analysis. Results: 43 records were included. Thematic analysis of data resulted in the development of the NICU Communication Framework, including four functions of communication (1. building/maintaining relationships, 2. exchanging information, 3. (sharing) decision-making, 4. enabling parent self-management) and five factors that contribute to adequate communication across these functions (topic, aims, location, route, design) and, thereby, to tailored parent-provider communication. Conclusion: The NICU Communication Framework fits with the goals of Family Integrated Care to encourage parent participation in infants’ care. This framework forms a first step towards the conceptualization of (adequate) communication in NICU settings. Practice implications: Findings can be used to improve NICU communication in practice, in particular through the mnemonic TAILORED.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1505-1517
Number of pages13
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number7
Early online date28 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a personal grant awarded to N.H.M. Labrie by the Dutch Research Council (NWO, VI.Veni.191S.032). The funding source had no involvement in the study design; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; the writing of the report; and the decision to submit the article for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s)

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Adequate interpersonal communication
  • Communication functions
  • Meta-synthesis
  • Neonatal intensive care unit
  • NICU
  • NICU communication framework
  • Parents
  • Patient-provider communication
  • Patient-provider relationships
  • Preterm infants
  • Systematic review
  • Tailored communication


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