Cost-effectiveness of screening preschool children for hearing loss in Australia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: While all newborns in Australia are tested for congenital hearing loss through universal newborn hearing screening programs, some children will acquire hearing loss in their first five years of life. Delayed diagnosed or undiagnosed hearing loss in children can have substantial immediate- and long-term consequences. It can significantly reduce school readiness, language and communication development, social and emotional development, and mental health. It can also compromise lifetime educational achievements and employment opportunities and future economic contribution to society through lost productivity. The need for a universal hearing screening program for children entering their first year of primary school has been noted in two separate Australian Government hearing inquiries in the last decade. Sound Scouts is a hearing screening application (app) that tests for hearing loss in children using a tablet or mobile device, supervised by parents at home. It tests for sensorineural or permanent conductive hearing loss and central auditory processing disorder in children. In 2018 the Australian Government funded the roll-out of Sound Scouts to allow up to 600,000 children to test their hearing using Sound Scouts. This study estimated the cost-effectiveness of screening 5-year-old children for hearing loss using Sound Scouts at home, compared with no screening.

Design: A decision-analytic model was developed to estimate the incremental costs and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) of administering Sound Scouts over a 20-year time horizon. Testing accuracy was based on comparing Sound Scouts test results to clinical test results while other parameters were based on published data. Costs were estimated from the perspective of the Australian health care system. Univariate and probabilistic sensitivity analyses were undertaken.

Results: Sound Scouts is estimated to result in an average incremental cost of A$61.02 and an average incremental increase in QALYs of 0.01. This resulted in an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of A$5392 per QALY gained, which is likely to be considered cost-effective by Australian decision makers. Screening with Sound Scouts was found to have a 96.2 per cent probability of being cost-effective using a threshold of A$60,000 per QALY gained.

Conclusions: Using Sound Scouts to screen five-year-old children for hearing loss (at home) is likely to be cost-effective. Screening children using Sound Scouts will result in early identification and intervention in childhood hearing loss, thereby reducing early childhood disadvantage through cumulative gains in quality of life, education, and economic outcomes over their lifetime.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEar and Hearing
Early online date8 Nov 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Nov 2021

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