In the past decade, the United States has made tremendous progress in screening infants for hearing loss in the hospital. With screening rates increasing from 46.5 percent in 1999 to more than 97 percent today, this is one of the most successful public health interventions in recent times.
However, screening is only the first step in a successful program. Early identification of hearing loss and appropriate support help ensure that babies don’t fall behind in speech and language development. For infants who do not pass hearing tests in the hospital, research shows that outcomes dramatically improve when diagnoses are confirmed by audiologists within three months and children are enrolled in appropriate early intervention services within six months of birth. Unfortunately, these two critical follow-up steps are not happening at the same level of reliability as the initial screening.
The success of the screening program in terms of patient outcomes depends on a reliable system for these crucial follow-up steps. Improving the procedures for post newborn hearing screening follow-up requires hospitals, audiologists, primary care physicians, parents and staff from the Early Hearing Detection Intervention (EHDI) offices to partner together for improvement.