Docs use telehealth to diagnose pediatric hearing problems

University of California-Davis has expanded its already hefty pediatric telehealth program into an innovative new area--follow-up exams on newborns with possible hearing problems.

The medical center recently created a unique new pilot to provide at-risk infants with pediatric audiology consults via UC Davis' telehealth program. Newborns who fail the initial hearing screenings in the hospital require immediate follow-up to identify hearing deficiencies and begin corrective treatment.

"Bringing these babies back for testing is imperative to optimize their development, especially the speech development critical to acquiring language and learning," Anne Simon, senior pediatric audiologist in the UC Davis Department of Otolaryngology, says in a statement. "If we intervene by six months, we find that children have a much better chance of acquiring age-appropriate language. So we want to get hearing aids on them by six months."

But families in rural Northern California often face a two- to four-hour drive to a major medical center to meet with specialists. The most recent state data shows that 40 percent of babies who need the follow-up testing never receive it, hospital officials reveal.

While some telehealth programs provide audiology services to children, they generally constitute video conferencing between experts at a major medical center and the patient's primary care physician, UC Davis officials note. This new program will test out physicians actually examining patients and performing a series of audio tests on the infant during a video visit. An EEG technician will place electrodes on a child's head and ears, then will hand the virtual reins to an audiologist, who can control the screening equipment remotely. The audiologist can change camera views, view the ear canal and ear drum, and check the information being recorded during the testing.

The pilot is funded through a three-year, $354,242 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and will involve UC Davis, the state of California and Mercy Medical Center in Redding.

UC Davis already provides a host of pediatric services via telemedicine, including emergency evaluations, cardiology care, child development, child abuse screenings and other specialty care, hospital officials note.

To learn more:
- check out the UC Davis press release
- read the mHIMSS article
- learn more about UC Davis' pediatric telehealth program