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Screening detects hearing losses in newborns

Austin and Ann Pavlicek, Dickinson, have the assurance their newborn son, Adam, has normal hearing.

Adam was screened for hearing defects after his birth on Oct. 23, 2006, in BabyKind at Dickinson's St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center.

The parents, who also have a 3-year-old daughter Abbey, appreciated the service.

"It tells us he's hearing good," said Ann.

The hospital is participating in the North Dakota Early Hearing Detection Program. The program is implemented by the North Dakota First Sounds Project.

"All the hospitals in the state are doing this screening. It's actually a nation-wide push to have infants screened at birth and North Dakota jumped right on the bandwagon to get it up and running," said Bolin, RN, BabyKind obstetrics director.

The program allows staff to follow infants from birth through their hearing screening, follow-up and eventual diagnosis and intervention.

The program's goal is to screen 100 percent of babies in North Dakota before they leave the hospital.

St. Joseph's Hospital reported a 93 percent birth screening rate with a five percent referral rate to an intervention program during the first quarter and a 94 percent birth screening rate with a 11 percent refer rate in the second quarter of 2006. The national bench marks are 90 to 95 percent for birth screening with less than 10 percent referrals.

Of 31 infants born at St. Joseph's during August, four were referred; and of 22 babies born during September, three were referred for a re-check.

"This doesn't mean the baby can't hear," said Bolin.

Sometimes, the infants' ears are blocked by fluid following birth, or the ears are too tiny for accurate reading of probe, she said.

The referred infants are rechecked two weeks after birth. At that point, referrals are made to an audiologist.

"This is not a diagnostic tool. This is a screening tool," said Bolin.

The hospital strives for 100 percent testing of infants. However, premature infants may be transferred to a neonatal unit before testing, or documentation of screening isn't reported before the statistics are compiled, said Bolin.

Bolin said screening system was purchased by the hospital with grant monies.

"All the nurses are trained to do it," she said. "We wait until the infant is 24 hours old," she said.

During the screening process, the instrument presents a pair of tones or a click through a probe placed in the patients' ear canal. A tiny, sensitive microphone in the probe measures the otoacoustic emission (OAE). The machine automatically compares the response to normal data and assigns a "pass" or "refer" result to the screening. The OAE screening can be used for patients of all ages, newborns through geriatrics.

Bolin said the parents receive a certificate, indicating the infant has "passed" the screening.