Background: This study investigated whether A-ABR newborn hearing screens (NBHS) were performed earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic, as compared to NBHS prior to COVID-19. In addition, we assessed whether the observed difference in timing impacted screening results and diagnostic outcomes.
Methods: NBHS data before and during the pandemic were compared, with 10,870 patients included. Newborns who did not pass their first screen were referred for a second hearing screen and subsequently referred for diagnosis. Within multivariable analyses,
independent variables included postnatal age, time difference between screenings, and pandemic timeframe. The primary outcomes were “refer” rates and permanent hearing loss diagnosis rates.
Results: COVID-era newborns underwent NBHS at statistically significantly earlier ages. When two screens were performed, the time difference between screens was significantly shorter in the COVID-era group. Vaginally-delivered COVID-era newborns had significantly higher “refer” rates (23.67% versus 18.25%) and were diagnosed with permanent bilateral hearing loss at significantly lower rates. Timing factors were also significant predictors of permanent hearing loss in C-section newborns.
Conclusions: COVID-era newborns were screened significantly earlier in life. Earlier screening was associated with a statistically significant impact on “refer” rates and lower permanent hearing loss diagnoses. Earlier screening may have contributed to downstream follow-up testing.