Alberta Needs Universal Newborn Hearing Screening

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Upto 3 newborns per 1000 live births are born with hearing loss. Early detection and intervention for these children is critical for future language, cognitive, and social development.

Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) has been advocated by the NIH, American Academic of Paediatrics, and Canadian Paediatric Society. Some provinces in Canada have even performed cost-effective analysis to demonstrate significant net benefit in terms of educational and vocational savings. Unfortunately, even after a 2013 promise to bring UNHS to Alberta, currently there is no universal hearing screening except for in some select community hospitals. Otolaryngologists, Audiologists, and Speech Language Pathologists in Alberta have urged the government and Alberta Health Services to reconsider their current policy, emphasizing that intervention and treatment should ideally be started before 6 months of age.

Screening is often performed by trained nurse or audiologists by detecting echoes from outer hair cells of an infant’s cochlea. These tests are cheap and easily administered in the neonatal ICU setting or neonatal nursery.

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Infants who fail initial testing by this method can then go on to more advanced hearing testing. If a hearing loss is confirmed, the child and family can then be provided timely education, medical/surgical, and educational intervention.

Currently, the average delay in diagnosis of hearing loss in Alberta is 18 to 24 months! Alberta needs to follow the lead of other provinces in Canada and provide an integrated and consistent UNHS program.

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5 Responses to “Alberta Needs Universal Newborn Hearing Screening”

  1. ezektser Says:

    Thanks for posting! I completely agree with you and am actually surprised that Alberta does not have a comprehensive hearing screen for all newborns like in the United States. I work as a pediatric nurse and we take care of many newborns prior to their discharge home. It is actually a state requirement for us to perform hearing screens on all of the newborns prior to discharge. The legislation is fairly strict and we have detected several cases of hearing loss that otherwise would not have been detected. Early detection allowed us to intervene sooner. We also perform repeat hearing screens for patients that received certain medications that can be ototoxic. Considering what a simple, noninvasive, and inexpensive procedure this is, hopefully Alberta will soon pass legislation to remedy this problem.

  2. sarahbarkle Says:

    I am very surprised to hear that this has not been implemented yet in Alberta. As a physician in Ontario, we rely on newborn screening program to provide us with efficient early detection of hearing loss. It most often done on newborns prior to discharge from hospital and it is not they have very close follow up. Alberta has relatively similar healthcare spending as Ontario. This type of discrepancy in programming between provinces highlights the interesting dynamic of the Canadian healthcare system. Provinces have a lot of flexibility to make their own policies. There should be some pressure at the federal level for provinces to implement universal newborn screening. Thank you for the posting this important matter.

  3. tinakumra Says:

    Agree! I practice in Baltimore as a general pediatrician and the AAP in cooperation with the CDC have implemented the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program to ensure every child with hearing loss receives timely intervention. The cost savings that you mentioned plays a huge role in this effort. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing face a potential developmental emergency and should be identified as quickly as possible so that appropriate intervention services are implemented. Learning and vocational gaps are savings are key. Thank you for your post!!

  4. atrueb Says:

    I was very interested to read your post! I am a postpartum nurse in Washington D.C. and newborn hearing screens are routine on our unit. They are considered part of required newborn screening in Washington, D.C., and must be completed for every infant before they are discharged from the hospital. I think a policy change that requires hearing screening in the hospital would be an effective way to reach the majority of infants early. And I can tell you from experience, the test is extremely quick and non-invasive! In addition, I think both parents in addition to pediatricians would support this change, as I often have parents asking me when the hearing test will be performed.

  5. dmoran5 Says:

    Thank you for this post. I agree that universal screening is very important for hearing screening, and there is high quality evidence available to support it’s use. While many high income countries now have screening at birth, many lower income countries are not able to offer this at present. Instead, they are catching children with hearing deficits at school entry, which in many cases is too late to avoid hearing/speech/language deficits that ensue. It is very important that we work with LMICs to help build their newborn screening capacity when the birth occurs in a medical center.

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