In a new story for North Carolina Health News, Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven writes about the impact a lack of audiologists and other hearing specialists have on the state’s rural children. With a new study looking at using telehealth access to check children’s hearing, it would be one way to expand preventive medicine in underserved rural areas.

From the story: “A new study, called the Appalachian STAR trial, thinks it has an answer for how to help more rural children access hearing doctors.

The trial, which received $5.5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health at the end of September, will use telehealth to expand access to hearing screenings in 14 rural Kentucky schools and to streamline a child’s initial follow-up appointment with a specialist. Duke University ENT and professor Susan Emmett is the co-leader of the trial, along with researchers from the University of Kentucky. Emmett thinks a lot about preventative medicine, and how to improve access to those services.  

“Most of my work focuses on hearing loss because of the lifelong impact, particularly of childhood hearing loss,” she said. “The World Health Organization estimates that 60 percent of all childhood hearing loss can be prevented

“In most of the world, children don’t have good access to hearing care and this affects their entire lives. It produces speech and language delays, it makes kids do worse in school, and reduces their job opportunities as adults and yet it can be completely prevented.

“Our goal in partnering with Kentucky schools was that by working in an area that is extremely disadvantaged — some of the poorest counties in America, where access to care is just not where we want it to be — we could build a model that’s generalizable for all of rural America,” Emmett said.”

With the trial ongoing, the researchers hope that by using telehealth tools and using the health care system in place, access to care will be readily available, as the North Carolina has received federal funding to upgrade their broadband infrastructure.

To read the rest of the story, click here.