Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) have shown that the California Tele-Audiology Program (CTP), which provides follow-up diagnostic evaluations for infants who did not pass their initial newborn hearing test, dramatically improves access to audiologists.
According to a UC Davis announcement, an article in a recent edition of Telemedicine and e-Health explains that the research team found that families with access to CTP had 100% participation in follow up evaluations. The authors explain that this is an improvement, as before the teleaudiology program was implemented, 22% of families in the study region were unable to complete follow up.
“Before CTP, Northern California had a very high loss to follow-up,” said Madan Dharmar, PhD, assistant research professor in the Pediatric Telemedicine Program. “The California average is about 4.5%, but this area had an almost 22% loss to follow up. However, since CTP started, we have not had one loss to follow-up.”
All infants in California receive a hearing screening shortly after birth. If the child does not pass the hearing test, the family is strongly encouraged to get a follow-up test within three months. Early intervention can dramatically impact language skills and academic achievement.
“There’s only a short window when intervention can have a large effect on how these kids develop,” said Dharmar. “They have a chance to develop similar to their hearing peers, but if you miss this window, it may be more difficult for the child to have a similar outcome.”
Unfortunately, many families in rural communities have trouble meeting this requirement, as they may have to travel long distances to find a specialist. Other issues, such as a shortage of qualified audiologists, compound the problem.
In 2011, UC Davis Children’s Hospital and several other organizations launched CTP to ensure that all Northern California children receive this all-important follow-up care. The program created a secure telemedicine link between UC Davis Children’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center Redding (MMCR). The link includes video conferencing and a laptop that allows a UC Davis Children’s Hospital audiologist to control the audiology equipment at MMCR.
During the evaluation, the remote audiologist conducts a number of tests to assess whether the child has suffered hearing loss and, if so, the degree of impairment. A telepresenter at MMCR prepares the infant and acts as an assistant for both the parents and the remote audiologist.
During the study period (2011-13), 22 infants were referred to the CTP for audiology follow-up and all were tested. Of these, nine had normal hearing and 13 had some level of hearing loss – 8 had severe impairment. The study team also surveyed both parents and providers to gauge their comfort with the technology. Each group gave high marks for the quality of the links, as well as the overall consultations. This is the first study to measure parental perceptions of tele-audiology. In addition, CTP’s success has opened the door to possible expansion.
Source: UC Davis Children’s Hospital
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