Objective: To identify factors responsible for delays in diagnosis and treatment of pediatric sensorineural hearing impairment (SNHI), and to assess the thoroughness of medical evaluation in these children.
Design: Retrospective analysis.
Setting: State-supported school for the deaf.
Patients and other participants: 291 children with SNHI, the bast majority of whom are profoundly hearing impaired. Data were collected from the school's database, individual student records, and a parental questionnaire.
Main outcome measures: (1) The age of diagnosis and treatment of SNHI; (2) actors leading to a delay in diagnosis; (3) current medical evaluations used to determine the etiology of SNHI; and (4) the level of parental satisfaction with the evaluation process.
Results: Many children with SNHI experience delays in diagnosis from the time of first suspicion of hearing loss. Children with a risk factor for SNHI are diagnosed no earlier than children without a risk factor. Caucasian children are diagnosed significantly earlier than either Black or Hispanic children, regardless of socioeconomic status. Inconsistent medical evaluation ensues following the diagnosis of SNHI, and parental satisfaction with this process is low.
Conclusions: The average age of diagnosis of SNHI remains unacceptably high. There exists a need to enhance physician awareness of childhood deafness and to develop guidelines for the medical evaluation in cases of pediatric SNHI. Lastly, the importance of parental concern regarding a child's hearing or language development must be re-emphasized.