Identification of Potential Barriers to Timely Access to Pediatric Hearing Aids

Lisa Zhang, Anne R Links, Emily F Boss, Alicia White, Jonathan Walsh
JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery 2019 October 10

Importance: Despite various barriers identified to early pediatric access to cochlear implantation, barriers to timely access to pediatric hearing aids are not well characterized.

Objective: To identify socioeconomic, demographic, and clinical factors that may be associated with pediatric access to hearing aids.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This retrospective cohort study included 90 patients aged 1 to 15 years who were referred for auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing and evaluation for hearing aids at a single tertiary care academic medical center from March 2004 to July 2018. Children who did not receive both ABR testing and hearing aids at the same center were excluded from analysis.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Associations of insurance type (private vs public), race/ethnicity (white vs other), primary language (English vs other), cause of hearing loss (complex vs not complex), zip code, hearing aid manufacturer, and severity of hearing loss (in decibels) with the duration of intervals from newborn hearing screening to ABR testing, from ABR testing to ordering of hearing aids, and from ABR testing to dispensing of hearing aids.

Results: Of the 90 patients, mean (SD) age was 5.6 (3.7) years, 56% were female, and 77 (86%) were non-Hispanic. Results of χ2 tests indicated significant assocations existed between public insurance and race/ethnicity and between public insurance and primary language other than English. Variables associated with the interval from newborn hearing screening to ABR testing included insurance type (mean difference, 7.4 months; 95% CI, 2.6-12.2 months) and race/ethnicity (mean difference, 6.9 months; 95% CI, 2.7-11.1 months). Increased delays between birth and a child's first ABR test were associated with public insurance (mean difference, 6.0 months; 95% CI, 1.8-10.2 months) and race/ethnicity other than white (mean difference, 6.0 months; 95% CI, 2.3-9.7 months). The mean time from birth to initial ABR testing was a mean of 6 months longer for patients from non-English-speaking families than for those from English-speaking families (mean [SD] interval, 14.9 [16.3] months vs 9.0 [8.5] months), although the difference was not statistically significant. Severity of hearing loss was associated with a decrease in the interval from ABR testing to ordering of hearing aids after accounting for other potential barriers (odds ratio, 0.6; 95% CI, 0.4-0.9). Zip code and complexity of the child's medical condition did not appear to be associated with timely access to pediatric hearing aids.

Conclusions and Relevance: This study's findings suggest that insurance type, race/ethnicity, and primary language may be barriers associated with pediatric access to hearing aids, with the greatest difference observed in time to initial ABR testing. Clinical severity of hearing loss appeared to be associated with a significant decrease in time from ABR testing to ordering of hearing aids. Greater efforts to assist parents with ABR testing and coordination of follow-up may help improve access for other at-risk children.

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