Babies’ hearing can be tested

New equipment at theCayman Islands Health Services Authority means medical staff can now test the hearing of newborn babies.

As well as testing the hearing of babies born at the Cayman Islands Hospital in George Town, there will also be a monthly clinic to test babies born elsewhere.

“We are extremely proud of this new service as it closes another gap in services that had previously existed in the Cayman Islands,” said the Health Services Authority’s medical director, Dr. Greg Hoeksema.

The testing involves placing painless sensors on the baby’s head and ears to measure brainwave activity and ear responses associated with hearing. The non-invasive tests take about 20 minutes and can be done while the baby is sleeping or in a quiet state, said Dr. Hoeksema.

Two separate tests can be done, explained Shannon Hydes, nurse manager of the maternity unit at the hospital. One is an auditory brainstem response, or ABR, test in which electrodes are attached to the baby’s head to record electrical activity from the auditory nerve and other parts of the brain. The second is an otoacoustic emissions testing, or OAE, test during which a soft plastic probe with a tiny microphone and transmitter is placed in the baby’s ear canal to measure if the ear responds properly to sound.

ABR tests would normally be done for babies with a history of deafness in their families or for premature babies, but in usual circumstances an OAE check is done.

If the OAE test shows some abnormality in the child’s hearing, an ABR test would follow. “If it fails that one, then the baby would be referred to an audiologist,” said Ms Hydes.

The tests can be done on babies as young as two days old, she said. However, even if the newborn passes the hearing test, parents should still ensure children’s hearing is tested again as part of their paediatric and developmental check-ups, Ms Hydes added.

Early identification

Dr. Hoeksema said the new service will enable early identification of hearing disorders that will help doctors to guide intervention, treatment and counselling to families on managing hearing loss that may be detected in their newborn.

“Additionally, it will guide referrals to essential services such as early intervention, speech therapy and audiology more quickly to ensure optimal outcomes for every child with hearing loss,” said Health Services Authority CEO Lizzette Yearwood.

“It is a vitally important new service we are now able to offer, and we are notifying every private doctor and OB/GYN in the Cayman Islands, encouraging them to avail themselves, and their patients, of this service,” she said.

The hearing testing equipment was financed solely through the Health Service Authority, which was able to underwrite the costs of personnel training for the new equipment with the assistance of the recently established Caring for Life Foundation.

The foundation was launched in November to help the authority fund new equipment, research and education for the Authority.

Caring for Life foundation chairman, ScotiaBank Director of Private Banking Bruce John, said he was pleased Caring for Life was able to fund the training programme for the new equipment.

“The devoted professionals at the HSA have done excellent work in the last few years, improving the quality and scope of care, but, particularly in these difficult economic times of tight budgets and reduced expenditures, the organisation needs the assistance we can offer,” he said. “It is a perfect example of what can be accomplished through public-private partnerships, and we think stands as an example for future advances in local health care.”

“We are very pleased to have been able to play a role in this, realising that everyone in the Cayman Islands benefits. Certainly, in this case, families and newborns are helped to ensure the long-term management of their healthcare. What better way to make our first contribution of Caring for Life funds than in the health of newborn babies in Cayman?” Mr. John said.

At the foundation’s November launch at a Governor’s House ceremony, Mr. John pointed to a five-page list detailing $8.7 million of needed equipment and improvements “for the medical, maternity and surgical wards, the operating theatre, accident and emergency, dialysis, pathology laboratory, the hospital’s plant and facilities, and the critical care unit, just to name a few”.

Ms Yearwood said that with the new hearing testing equipment, all babies born at the Cayman Islands Hospital can now be screened before discharge and the hospital’s Paediatric Clinic will offer monthly auditory screenings for babies born outside the hospital.