Thermal imaging applications in neonatal care: a scoping review

Topalidou, Anastasia orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0280-6801, Ali, Nazmin, Sekulic, Slobodan and Downe, Soo orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2848-2550 (2019) Thermal imaging applications in neonatal care: a scoping review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 19 (1). pp. 1-14.

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In neonatal care, assessment of the temperature of the neonate is essential to confirm on-going health, and as an early signal of potential pathology. However, some methods of temperature assessment involve disturbing the baby, disrupting essential sleep patterns, and interrupting maternal/infant interaction. Thermal imaging is a completely non-invasive and non-contact method of assessing emitted temperature, but it is not a standard method for neonatal thermal monitoring. To examine the potential utility of using thermal imaging in neonatal care, we conducted a comprehensive systematic scoping review of thermal imaging applications in this context.


From 442 hits, 21 met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. A significant number (n = 9) were published in the last 8 years. All the studies were observational studies, with 20 out of 21 undertaken in North America or Europe. Most of them had small cohorts (range 4–29 participants). The findings were analysed narratively, to establish the issues identified in the included studies. Five broad themes emerged for future examination. These were: general thermal physiology; heat loss and respiratory monitoring; identification of internal pathologies, including necrotising enterocolitis; other uses of thermal imaging; and technical concerns. The findings suggest that thermal imaging is a reliable and non-invasive method for continuous monitoring of the emitted temperature of the neonates, with potential for contributing to the assurance of wellbeing, and to the diagnosis of pathologies, including internal abnormalities. However, the introduction of thermal imaging into everyday neonatology practice has several methodological challenges, including environmental parameters, especially when infants are placed in incubators or open radiant warmers.

In conclusion, although the first attempt at using thermal imaging in neonatal care started in the early-1970s, with promising results, and subsequent small cohort studies have recently reinforced this potential, there have not been any large prospective studies in this area that examine both the benefits and the barriers to its use in practice.

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