Early hearing loss detection leads to improved developmental outcomes for children

May 17, 2022 | by Jennifer Gutierrez
Early hearing loss detection leads to improved developmental outcomes for children

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association designates each May as Better Hearing and Speech Month to raise awareness about communication disorders. Hearing loss is the most prevalent birth defect. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), three in 1,000 infants are born deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH). An additional population segment of three in 1,000 children experience permanent hearing changes after the newborn period and become D/HH during childhood. Thus, it advises hearing screenings for all newborns, a universal standard of care in nearly all U.S. hospitals since the early 1990s.

As the leading provider of this crucial service, the Pediatrix® Newborn Hearing Screen Program (NHSP) partners with more than 400 hospitals in more than 30 states to aid in the early identification of hearing loss, providing an opportunity for infants with hearing loss to receive timely intervention, dramatically increasing their quality of life. Pediatrix has screened more than 10 million babies since the program’s inception more than 25 years ago.

“Our primary goal is to find those babies who need further testing to determine if there is hearing loss,” said Christy Taylor, market manager for the Pediatrix NHSP and 23-year industry veteran. “We may be saving them down the road from years of struggle. We’re changing someone’s life, potentially.”

Among the many benefits of the Pediatrix program is the exclusive use of automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) technology.

Best-in-class screening

All Pediatrix hearing screens use AABR technology, which screens the entire auditory pathway to measure the brain’s response to sound and can identify infants with hearing abnormalities within the cochlea and the auditory nerve.

While both AABR and otoacoustic emissions (OAE) are approved screening methods, they differ in their ability to detect certain types of hearing loss, such as auditory neuropathy. OAE checks only a portion of the hearing pathway from the outer ear to the cochlea, whereas AABR checks the entire hearing pathway from the outer ear through to the brainstem. Auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD), a hearing problem in which the ear detects sound normally, but has a problem sending it to the brain, can be missed when screening with OAEs.

AABR is recommended by the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing as the appropriate screening method for use in the NICU, though Pediatrix uses this superior technology for all babies regardless of health status.

“Pediatrix takes the stance that we don’t want to differentiate between patients and choose to use the gold standard across the board,” said Taylor. “It’s better for consistency, allowing us to compare apples to apples, and it’s the preferred screening technology specifically because it is able to detect auditory neuropathy.”

Early identification = improved outcomes and cost savings

The Pediatrix NHSP follows the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing’s early detection and intervention guidelines. The goal is for all babies to have a newborn hearing screening by one month of age, ideally before they go home from the hospital; identified/diagnosed by 3 months of age and enrolled in early intervention or treatment, if identified as D/HH, by 6 months.

The Pediatrix refer rate (babies who do not pass the hearing screen and require primary care/audiology assessment) is consistently around 2%, which is well within the target range recommended by the AAP. Pediatrix is able to achieve this benchmark largely due to the program’s use of the highly accurate AABR technology by skilled hearing screen technicians who undergo a comprehensive training curriculum developed by Pediatrix audiologists. The AAP states that the referral rate for formal audiologic testing after newborn hearing screening should not exceed 4%. A low refer rate means fewer false positives, reduced loss to follow up (any baby who did not receive or complete the recommended diagnostic or intervention process) and decreased stress on parents and community resources. Fewer false positives reduce the need for rescreening, enabling faster follow-up care for babies who genuinely need it. In addition to developmental benefits for children, early hearing loss detection and intervention generates significant economic benefits through education cost savings and increased lifetime productivity.

The Pediatrix NHSP is proud to have a satisfaction rating of 93.61%, demonstrating our commitment to family-centered care and the parent/patient experience.

Learn more about the Pediatrix Newborn Hearing Screen Program