March 28th, 2014 | General | by Andreas Seelisch

Only One Province Graded as “Excellent” for Newborn Hearing Screenings

“Serious Shortcomings” were cited in regards to newborn hearing screenings and comprehensive follow-up according to a recent report card released by Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC) and the Canadian Academy of Audiology. Eight provinces and territories in Canada scored a grade of “insufficient,” with only British Columbia receiving a grade of “excellent.”

Many babies are still not being screened for hearing loss at birth in Canada. Another area that is lacking is monitoring children and any possible hearing loss over a long-term. According to Dr. Roula Baali, Audiologist and SAC Board Director, “the initial newborn hearing screening is really just the first step. It’s an extremely important step, but it’s just the first one… when we talk about early hearing detection and intervention we are really talking about a comprehensive strategy to not only screen babies for hearing loss at birth, but also provide timely diagnosis and intervention programs for children who have hearing problems and surveillance of those who do not.”

Early detection of hearing loss is a crucial component to preventing any negative impact on a child’s social, emotional and educational development, says Montreal Pediatrician, Dr. Hema Patel. The negative effects of late detection can also extend to cognitive and communication development.

The study suggests that extended periods of auditory deprivation could affect a child’s overall brain development. The impact is so great that some experts have called permanent childhood hearing loss a neurological emergency.

Provinces and territories were graded in two categories: coverage and quality. Only British Columbia scored as “excellent” in both categories. In that province 97% of babies are screened across the region for hearing loss and they have clear standards and follow-up procedures in place.

Ontario was among the provinces that received a grade of “good,” along with Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

The provinces and territories with “insufficient” grades included: Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

In Manitoba only 10-15% of babies receive hearing loss screenings at birth. In Nunavut, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories the number of screenings is unknown, as there are no hearing loss screening or related recordkeeping standards in place. This underscores the crux of the issue; there is too much inconsistency across the country, as some provinces don’t have any province-wide newborn hearing screening programs, while others are a lot closer to fully implemented and stable programs.

Although there were many areas highlighted for improvement, Dr. Baali says that Ontario is another province that is doing really well. Ontario has a fully funded provincial program.

According to the Canadian Pediatric Society’s 2011 position statement, most universal newborn hearing screening programs across the globe recommend screenings take place by one month of age, diagnosis confirmation by three months of age, and any intervention should take place by six months of age.

The report card released earlier this week by the Speech-Language and Audiology Canada and the Canadian Academy of Audiology was endorsed by the Canadian Paediatric Society, VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children, and the Elks and Royal Purple of Canada.

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