Expansion of the scopes of practice of allied health practitioners has the potential to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of healthcare, given the identified shortages in medical personnel. Despite numerous examples in other allied health disciplines, this has yet to be applied to pediatric Audiology. This study aimed to investigate the effectiveness and safety of using audiologists with advanced training to independently triage children referred to otolaryngology (ORL) services, and compare the subsequent use of specialist resources, and postoperative grommet care to a standard medical ORL service.
One hundred twenty children consecutively referred to a large ORL outpatient service in Queensland, Australia, for middle ear and hearing concerns were prospectively allocated to either the ORL service or Advanced Audiology-led service. Demographic and clinical data were extracted from electronic medical records and compared between the two services. Clinical incidents and adverse events were recorded for the Advanced Audiology-led service.
Approximately half of all children referred to ORL for middle ear or hearing concerns were discharged without requiring any treatment, with the remaining half offered surgical treatment. The Advanced Audiology-led model increased the proportion of children assessed by ORL that proceeded to surgery from 57% to 82% compared with the standard medical ORL model. Children followed up by the audiologists after grommet insertion were more likely to be discharged independently and at the first postoperative review appointment compared with the standard medical ORL service. There were no reports of adverse events or long-term bilateral hearing loss after discharge by the Advanced Audiology-led service.
These findings indicate that an Advanced Audiology-led service provides a safe and effective triaging model for the independent management of children not requiring treatment, and children requiring routine postoperative grommet review, and improves the effective use of specialist resource compared with the standard medical ORL service.