Newborn hearing screening programs aim to lower the ages at audiological intervention among hearing-impaired children. In Wallonia and Brussels (Belgium), audiological intervention data are not collected in the screening program, and the ages at initiating audiological care have never been assessed. This study aimed to assess the evolution in the ages at initiating audiological intervention in the context of a newborn hearing screening program implementation.
This population-based descriptive study used data from the Belgian healthcare billing database. The main outcomes were the children’s ages at the initial audiological assessment, hearing-aid fitting, and cochlear implantation. Results were compared to the same outcomes from another Belgian regional program (Flanders) that was implemented one decade earlier. Annual birth cohorts from 2006 to 2011 were included in the study.
In Wallonia-Brussels, the median ages for all outcomes tended to decrease over time but remained higher than in Flanders for each birth cohort. For all outcomes except the hearing-aid fitting, differences in median ages between the two regions became less pronounced during the study period. In 2006, < 23% of the children from Wallonia-Brussels received any audiological care before the age of 12 months and these proportions were approximately 2-fold greater in the subsequent birth cohorts. For all outcomes, early care (< 12 months) was typically delivered less frequently in Wallonia-Brussels, compared to the delivery in Flanders. These region-specific differences exhibited a decreasing trend over time, and statistically significant differences were less common in the later birth cohorts.
We conclude that the hearing screening program in Wallonia and Brussels promoted earlier audiological intervention among hearing-impaired children. However, milestones recommended by experts for an early intervention were not totally encountered. We also recommend collecting audiological intervention data as part of this program, which can facilitate more accurate and regular program evaluation.