A critical review of the role of neonatal hearing screening in the detection of congenital hearing impairment.

A Davis, J Bamford, I Wilson, T Ramkalawan, M Forshaw, S Wright

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This review was commissioned because of the increasing doubt about the ability of existing screening programmes (mainly the health visitor distraction test (HVDT) at 7-8 months) to identify children with congenital hearing impairment, and technological advances which have made neonatal hearing screening an alternative option.
To review the available literature on the screening of permanent childhood hearing impairment. To provide commissioners and providers of health care with information about how to deliver a more uniform service, better outcomes, and more cost-effective screening. To identify areas for further research and service development.
How the research was conducted
The research involved a review of the available published and unpublished literature, and a comprehensive survey of current pre-school hearing screening provision in the UK coupled with a health economics study of hearing screening costs. The research also included a number of focus groups and visits to key centres in the UK and North America.
Research findings
EPIDEMIOLOGY OF PERMANENT CHILDHOOD HEARING IMPAIRMENT: There are approximately 840 children a year born in the UK with significant permanent hearing impairment likely to affect their own and their family's quality of life. Present services will miss about 400 of these children by 1 1/2 years of age, and about 200 of these children by 3 1/2 years of age. Such late identification of hearing impairment greatly reduces the responsiveness of the services for individual children.
Evidence for improved outcomes with earlier identification
Hearing-impaired children identified late are at risk of substantial delay in their acquisition of language and communication skills, with consequent longer-term risk to education achievement, mental health and quality of life. Theoretical arguments on neural development support the limited evidence here for the increased benefit for child and family associated with very early identification. In general, parents and professionals want very early identification, which, if implemented properly, does not cause undue anxiety.
Current uk practice
The survey of current practice indicated a major problem with poor information systems. This problem was further highlighted as a major concern by the multi-disciplinary focus groups. Practice varies. There are two District-wide programmes in which all newborn babies are neonatally screened, a large number of ad hoc programmes for neonatal screening of 'at-risk' babies, a variety of early surveillance programmes, and widespread use of the HVDT. Intervention and habilitation for the majority of those screened neonatally is routinely undertaken within 6 months of birth. For those screened only by the health visitor, identification was on average at about 26 months of age with intervention at about 32 months on average. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Article number9483157
Pages (from-to)1-176
JournalHealth technology assessment (Winchester, England)
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1997


  • children
  • hearing impairment

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