Paediatric hearing assessment with tele-audiology

An investigation in rural and remote populations
Prof. Greg Leigh, Kim TerHorst, Genelle Cook, Prof. Philip Newall

HEARing Cooperative Research Centre Project R4.5.2.

Studies have shown that up to 60% of indigenous children under 12 yrs have some form of middle ear disorder. As a result significant numbers have hearing loss (NSW DoH 2008). Over recent years a number of agencies have developed strategies for the screening and diagnosis of hearing loss amongst indigenous children, many of whom live outside urban centres (NSW DoH 2008). One factor limiting the diagnostic process has been delays between screening and full diagnostic audiology, due to a lack of available diagnostic audiology in the local community. Screening assessments are frequently carried out in the local community in non-sound treated conditions, to identify those children in need of further attention. However, travel to a regional centre is frequently required to access appropriate test conditions and/or skilled professionals for accurate diagnostic hearing assessment. The need to spend time and money travelling to services imposes a delay in full assessment and subsequent intervention.

With the improvement of technology, Telemedicine has emerged as a means to provide improved access for children in remote locations. In this context, "Tele-audiology" refers to the use of telecommunications and information technologies to assist with the provision of audiological services at a distance. The present study seeks to confirm that "remote" audiometry is a viable technique for accurately assessing air and bone conduction hearing thresholds for school age children in non-sound treated conditions. The study will assess children with normal hearing as well as children with sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. If successful, this study will demonstrate that remote technology can be used to assess children's hearing as accurately as conventional face to face assessment, and that this can be achieved in non-sound treated conditions.