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Initial Results of the Early Auditory Referral-Primary Care (EAR-PC) Study

      Introduction

      Hearing loss (HL) is the second most common disability in the U.S., yet is clinically underdiagnosed. To manage its common adverse psychosocial and cognitive outcomes, early identification of HL must be improved.

      Methods

      A feasibility study conducted to increase screening for HL and referral of patients aged ≥55 years arriving at two family medicine clinics. Eligible patients were asked to complete a self-administered consent form and the Hearing Handicap Inventory (HHI). Independently, clinicians received a brief educational program after which an electronic clinical prompt (intervention) alerted them (blinded to HHI results) to screen for HL during applicable patient visits. Pre- and post-intervention differences were analyzed to assess the proportion of patients referred to audiology and those diagnosed with HL (primary outcomes) and the audiology referral appropriateness (secondary outcome). Referral rates for those who screened positive for HL on the HHI were compared with those who scored negatively.

      Results

      There were 5,520 eligible patients during the study period, of which 1,236 (22.4%) consented. After the intervention’s implementation, audiology referral rates increased from 1.2% to 7.1% (p<0.001). Overall, 293 consented patients (24%) completed the HHI and scored >10, indicating probable HL. Of these 293 patients, 28.0% were referred to audiology versus only 7.4% with scores <10 (p<0.001). Forty-two of the 54 referred patients seen by audiology were diagnosed with HL (78%). Overall, the diagnosis of HL on problem lists increased from 90 of 4,815 patients (1.9%) at baseline to 163 of 5,520 patients (3.0%, p<0.001) over only 8 months.

      Conclusions

      The electronic clinical prompt significantly increased audiology referrals for at-risk patients for HL in two family medicine clinics. Larger-scale studies are needed to address the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force call to assess the long-term impact of HL screening in community populations.
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