Investigators have determined that objective hearing screenings conducted during routine doctor visits are feasible and effective in detecting postnatal hearing loss. The paper published in the January issue of The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, resulted from a collaboration between the John Tracy Clinic, The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
Currently, hearing screening is conducted at birth and before a child enters kindergarten leaving a large gap during which hearing loss can develop and remain undetected. If the initial screening fails to identify a hearing deficit or if hearing loss develops during the infant/toddler years, the child misses a significant period of language and cognitive development as well as sacrificing the opportunity for early intervention.
Data for the study was gathered through the Baby Sound Check project, a three year pilot program launched in 2007 by John Tracy Clinic to fill critical gaps in the early detection and treatment of hearing loss. The study established protocols for doctors and medical assistants in federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in Los Angeles to conduct hearing screenings on children 0-3 years during routine well-child checks. “At that time in some communities in Los Angeles,” notes Parul Bhatia, MD, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and supervising pediatrician on the study, “more than 90 percent of the children had never been screened for hearing loss and risked unnecessary delays in speech, language and cognitive development. Since then, newborn hearing screening has become routine in most hospitals in California and throughout the United States, but it does not address the growing problem of postnatal onset hearing loss during the decisive early developmental years.”
Data recorded on 1,965 cases at AltaMed Health Services Corporation and Venice Family Clinic (participating FQHCs in the Los Angeles metropolitan area) showed that the majority of screenings took less than 10 minutes to administer. “The project took advantage of the fact that infant hearing screening technologies, once prohibitively expensive and complex, had recently become affordable, portable and simplified for easy operation by trained medical staff,” comments Barbara F. Hecht, PhD, formerly of the John Tracy Clinic and now director of Clarke Schools Boston. “We sought to put equipment and procedures in place that would allow hearing screening to merge smoothly into routine well-baby care.”
“We focused on triaging two groups associated with hearing loss in very young children,” says Sandra Mintz, MS, audiologist and director of the Baby Sound Check project, now with the Ventura County Office of Education. “Through the screenings medical staff were able to immediately refer to an audiologist, those children suspected of permanent hearing loss and follow those with chronic fluid in the ears who were in need of medical monitoring. The results affirm the importance of infant hearing screening and also the need for periodic monitoring throughout early childhood.”
Ten percent of the children failed initial screening in at least one ear; among these, 50 percent had middle ear effusions and 22 percent raised concern for permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Five patients were identified with permanent hearing lossthrough this program.
Additional collaborators on the study include Alexis Deavenport, DrPH, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Alice A. Kuo, MD, PhD, of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Major funding for the Baby Sound Check project was provided by the Rosenthal Family Foundation and Kaiser Community Benefit Foundation.
John Tracy Clinic (www.jtc.org), a global leader in the field of auditory-verbal, early childhood deaf education, was established in 1943 byLouise Treadwell Tracy, wife of the actor Spencer Tracy. The Clinic, located at 806 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90007, also maintains a satellitefacility in Long Beach at 740 East Wardlow Road.
About Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has been named the best children’s hospital in California and among the top five in the nation for clinical excellence with its selection to the prestigious US News & World Report Honor Roll. Children’s Hospital is home to The Saban Research Institute, one of the largest and most productive pediatric research facilities in the United States, is one of America’s premier teaching hospitals and has been affiliated with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California since 1932.
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