Objective - Universal newborn hearing screening for bilateral permanent congenital hearing impairment is standard practice in many developed economies, but until there is clear evidence of cost-effectiveness, it remains a controversial use of limited health care resources. We conducted a formal systematic review of studies of newborn hearing screening that considered both costs and outcomes to produce a summary of the available evidence and to determine whether there was a need for further research.
Methods - A search was conducted of medical and nursing databases and gray literature websites by the use of multiple keywords. The titles and abstracts of studies were examined for preliminary inclusion if reference was made to newborn hearing screening, and to both costs and outcomes. Studies of potential relevance were independently assessed by 2 health economists for final inclusion in the review. Studies that met inclusion criteria were appraised by the use of existing guidelines for observational studies, economic evaluations and decision analytic models, and reported in a narrative literature review. Results - There were 22 distinct observational or modeled evaluations of which only 2 clearly compared universal newborn hearing screening to risk factor screening for bilateral permanent congenital hearing impairment. Of these, the single evaluation that examined long-term costs and outcomes found that universal newborn hearing screening could be cost-saving if early intervention led to a substantial reduction in future treatment costs and productivity losses.
Conclusions - There are only a small number of economic evaluations that have examined the long-term cost-effectiveness of universal newborn hearing screening. This is partly attributable to ongoing uncertainty about the benefits gained from the early detection and treatment of bilateral permanent congenital hearing impairment. There is a clear need for further research on long-term costs and outcomes to establish the cost-effectiveness of universal newborn hearing screening in relation to other approaches to screening, and to establish whether it is a good long term investment.