Communicating Results to Families and Physicians

The importance of communicating results of the hearing screening to both families and physicians is often underestimated. Proper communication of results to parents ensures that they have a positive experience with your newborn hearing screening program, while proper communication of results to physicians helps to ensure that families who are referred from the hearing screening receive appropriate follow-up care.

Communicating results to parents

The importance of how the results of the hearing screening are conveyed to parents cannot be emphasized enough. It is important that information about the hearing screening and the results are conveyed to the parents in a professional, thoughtful and sensitive manner. By saying "Your baby didn't pass the hearing screen" you may have just changed this family's whole life.

Points to remember when communicating results to parents:

Information should be given both verbally and in writing. Make handouts, pamphlets  and phone numbers available to the parents. Even if they don't look at them now, make sure they go home with the baby in case the parents have questions later.

You should also be able to provide contact information of people who can answer further questions in case you are unable to do so.

The person conveying the results of the test needs to be knowledgeable of what they are testing and able to answer questions.

They need to able to give more information than just "pass" or "refer" to the parents, and should be ready to answer questions, and know where to refer parents if they can't.

Inappropriate communication of screening results can cause undue stress and anxiety for the parents. Remember to use the proper terminology - see the sample scripts (PDF). Never say "fail." If a baby does not pass the hearing screening, the term "refer" should be used instead.

This is a fragile time for parents - information should be conveyed in a supportive, confidential environment. Make sure information is conveyed in an unhurried manner, with plenty of time allowed to answer questions

Remember, parents need and want as much information as possible. This helps them feel more equipped to deal with the situation and in control of their child's well-being.

Screeners should be able to provide information about:

  • Risk factors for hearing loss
  • What various terms mean 
  • Normal hearing development 
  • The hearing screening  

If a baby is referred for further testing

If a baby does not pass the hearing screening, it is crucial NOT to use the words "failed" or "did not pass". This terminology implies to the parents that their baby has a hearing loss, or is Deaf.

Instead, you should say, "We are referring your baby to an audiologist for further testing," or "We are referring your baby for a re-screening because the test results were inconclusive today." 

Parents must be made aware that newborn hearing screening is designed to catch babies who are at risk for hearing loss and need further testing. Remind parents that hearing loss does not necessarily equal deafness.

Hearing loss can range in severity from mild to severe-profound (deaf). Further diagnostic testing is needed to confirm their baby's hearing status.

If a baby is referred, the family should be informed that there could be several reasons why their baby is being referred for further testing.

The most common reasons are:

  • An ear canal blocked with debris (most common)
  • The presence of middle ear fluid
  • A permanent hearing loss (approximately 3 in 1000 births)

When screeners discuss results with families they should be careful not to downplay a refer result, while at the same time being careful not to panic the family.

The brochure " If Your Baby Is Referred for a Hearing Evaluation " (PDF) can answer many of the questions parents may have.

We recommend that you laminate a sheet of sample scripts (PDF) describing what to tell parents during several possible screening scenarios and keep it with your screening equipment for reference.

Communicating results to physicians

It is important to make sure that the infant's pediatrician is informed of the screening results. Parents listen to their pediatricians, and pediatricians are crucial to the success of your UNHS program.

Pediatricians will help you in ensuring that an infant receives appropriate follow-up if it does not pass the hearing screening test.

Ensuring that pediatricians and other primary care providers are well-educated about newborn hearing screening, in addition to how your particular program functions, will help them to better help families.

Sample materials

The following items have all been developed to help you in designing materials for your newborn hearing screening program. These materials may be reproduced and/or adapted to meet the needs of your program

Patient education brochure about newborn hearing screening:

Pediatrician Education Brochure (PDF)

Brochure for infants who are referred for further testing:

Sample notification cards (perforated in the center and tears apart into 2 postcards. One half is for the pediatrician; the other half is for the parents. Cards can be mailed or included with discharge information).

Sample notification letters

Additional samples of materials can be found in: