"Doctors are doing tests that they're ignoring," says Donna R. Halloran, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and a study author.
"Stop doing the test if you are not going to pay attention to it. Or, if you are going to do the test, pay attention to the results."
Halloran and her colleagues evaluated hearing screening results during 1,061 routine doctors' visits at three academic and five private practices in Alabama. They found that 10 percent of the children failed a hearing screening, which means that they missed reacting to at least one frequency sounded in either ear at the 20-decibel level. Of those children who failed the test, 59 percent received no further evaluation.
"My biggest problem is it's such a waste of money," says Halloran, who also is a SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. "It surprises me that in a litigious society we're ignoring screening results."
About 3 percent of the population has hearing impairment, Halloran says, which means the routine hearing screening picks up false positives.
However, if more than half of those who fail hearing screenings are not referred for in-depth evaluation by an audiologist, some children who have hearing problems might not get the help they need.
"At 4 years, they'll start to have some language delays that some people argue are not reversible," Halloran says. "A mild speech delay will be overlooked until they get into kindergarten. And even with severe hearing loss, huge improvements can be made with hearing aids."