J Am Acad Audiol 2001; 12(02): 101-112
DOI: 10.1055/s-0042-1745585
Original Article

Some Issues Relevant to Establishing a Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Program

Michael P. Gorga
Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska
Kimberly Preissler
Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska
Jeff Simmons
Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska
Lisa Walker
Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska
Brenda Hoover
Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska
› Author Affiliations


This article describes some of the factors relevant to the establishment of a universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS) program. First, the difficulty in providing precise estimates of test sensitivity and specificity are reviewed. This section is followed by hypothetical estimates of overall programmatic costs, first for a fixed number of babies to be screened and then as a function of the number of babies to be screened in a year. Included in these estimates are the costs for equipment, disposables, personnel, and follow-up testing. These estimates are provided for three different screening protocols: auditory brainstem response (ABR) alone, otoacoustic emission (OAE) alone, and OAE followed by ABR only for those babies who failed the OAE screening. If follow-up costs are not included, it is less expensive to screen newborns with OAEs compared with the other two protocols. However, once follow-up testing is included as part of the program costs and there are at least 400 births per year, procedures in which OAEs are performed first, followed by an ABR on those infants who do not pass the OAE test, result in the lowest costs. Hospitals with as few as 400 births per year should expect per-baby costs not exceeding $30, regardless of which protocol is used. For all three protocols, the unit costs decrease as the number of babies screened increases. The final section describes data from a local UNHS program in which all infants are screened first with an OAE test, followed by an ABR test on infants not passing the OAE screening. Idiosyncratic features to this program are described, including the fact that all screening tests are performed by audiologists, who are paid on a part-time basis, adding cost to the program. Even under these circumstances, the unit cost is under $30. These data lead us to conclude that all infants can be screened in a cost-effective manner.

Abbreviations: ABR = auditory brainstem response, DPOAE = distortion product otoacoustic emission, NICU = neonatal intensive care unit, OAE = otoacoustic emission, UNHS = universal newborn hearing screening

Publication History

Article published online:
28 February 2022

© 2001. American Academy of Audiology. This article is published by Thieme.

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