In response to COVID-19, the Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program have successfully adapted their operations to ensure babies continue to receive the best chance of normal speech and language development.
The Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program (VIHSP) is responsible for screening the hearing of approximately 70 thousand Victorian newborns each year. A quick and simple check to detect hearing loss early on means families can get expert advice and support, giving babies with hearing loss the best possible start in life.
Early identification and assistance for babies with hearing loss is important for their developing speech and language skills. Over the last ten years, VIHSP has contributed to a reduction in the average age of diagnosis of a hearing loss from 21.3 months to 0.8 months.
With one in a thousand infants born with a hearing loss, the success of hearing screening relies on the universality of the program. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of restrictions introduced by hospitals as well as heightened parental anxiety, meant that a number of barriers presented themselves. This included significant changes to where and when staff were able to complete the screen, and some parents decided to defer screening until a later time. Despite this, VIHSP adapted their workforce and operational protocol to ensure that the majority of babies continue to have their hearing screened within the recommended timeframe.
Some of the changes to existing processes involved maximising the number of inpatient screens, rostering staff in staggered shifts, prioritising high-risk babies, and tracking babies who were discharged without a screen.
On average, 99 percent of Victorian babies are screened by one month of age. However, during the height of the pandemic with considerable restrictions in place, February and March results only dropped to 97 percent — still considered a high result, the screening team should be congratulated for their fantastic efforts in maintaining this important health service.
It is reassuring that despite the challenges facing the hearing screening program during COVID19, Victorian babies are still able to benefit from hearing screening and begin their life with the best chance of normal speech and language development.
For more information please visit Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program.