Introduction: Hearing loss substantially impacts pediatric development, and early identification improves outcomes. While intervening before school-entry is critical to optimize learning, early-childhood hearing screening practices are highly variable. Conditioned play audiometry (CPA) is the gold standard for preschool hearing screening, but otoacoustic emission (OAE) testing provides objective data that may improve screening outcomes.
Objectives: To compare outcomes of a community-based low-income preschool hearing program before and after implementation of OAE in a single-visit, two-tiered paradigm. We hypothesized that this intervention would reduce referral rates and improve follow-up while maintaining stable rates of diagnosed sensorineural hearing loss.
Methods: We performed a cohort study of 3257 children screened from July 2014-June 2016. Department of Public Health data were analyzed pre- and post-implementation of second-line OAE testing for children referred on CPA screening with targeted follow-up by DPH staff. Primary outcomes included referral rates, follow-up rates, and diagnosis of sensorineural hearing loss.
Results: Demographics, pure-tone pass rates, and incidence of newly-diagnosed permanent hearing loss were similar across years. After intervention, overall pass rates increased from 92% to 95% (P = 0.0014), while only 0.7% remained unable to be tested (P<0.0001). 5% of children were unable to be tested by CPA screening but passed OAE testing, obviating further evaluation. Referral rate decreased from 8% to 5% (P = 0.0014), and follow-up improved from 36% to 91% (P<0.0001). Identification of pathology in children with follow-up increased from 19% to over 50%. Further, disparities in pass rates and ability to test seen in Year 1 were eliminated in Year 2.
Conclusion and relevance: In a community setting, implementation of second-line OAE screening for CPA referrals reduced referral rates, increased identification of hearing loss, reduced outcome disparities, and improved follow-up rates. This study provides lessons in how to improve outcomes and reduce disparities in early-childhood hearing screening.