Samantha Kleindienst Robler, AuD, PhD, Director of Audiology, Norton Sound Health Corporation
Ear infections represent one of the top diagnoses in the rural communities served by the Norton Sound Health Corporation (NSHC) and can result in hearing loss that negatively affects children’s school performance, vocational opportunities, and sociocultural engagement. Barriers to specialty care are immense, stemming chiefly from the remote nature of these communities. Given these barriers, the use of telemedicine has dramatically increased access to audiology and otologic care. However, this infrastructure has not been applied to the existent state-mandated school hearing screening process and is a novel approach for hearing loss prevention.
We will first discuss innovative telemedicine solutions implemented within audiological/otologic care at NSHC. We will then describe our community randomized trial evaluating the effect of telemedicine referral on expediting time to diagnosis and reducing loss to follow up in the school hearing screening process. Findings from this study have the potential to be applied within other remote areas and may influence screening policy statewide. Engagement with key stakeholders—such as parents, teachers, and health care providers— has been central to the execution of the project, and continued partnership is essential for sustainable adoption and implementation of this potentially transformative telemedicine solution.