To examine practice variance of cochlear implant candidacy assessment and off-label indications across centers in the United States.
Cross-sectional survey of the American Neurotology Society (ANS).
A total of 81 surveys were returned from ANS members who report regular involvement in cochlear implant care. Overall there was a broad distribution in age and clinical experience, with most respondents reporting ACGME accreditation in neurotology and employment at an academic center. The annual volume of cochlear implant surgeries varied considerably across centers.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents performed cochlear implantation for at least one of the following indications within the last 2 years: profound hearing loss in children less than 12 months of age (35, 43%), children with asymmetrical hearing loss where at least one ear was better than performance cutoff for age (25, 31%), adults with asymmetrical hearing where at least one ear was better than the performance cutoff for adult criteria (49, 61%), single-sided deafness (37, 46%), and ipsilateral vestibular schwannoma (28, 35%). Centers with a higher annual implant volume more frequently performed off-label implantation in all queried populations (all, p≤0.001), and performed surgery on infants with congenital deafness at a younger age (p = 0.013), compared with centers with lower surgical volume.
When surveyed regarding speech perception testing practices for adult candidacy assessment, 75 (100%) respondents who answered this question reported routine use of AzBio sentences, 42 (56%) CNC word scores, and 26 (35%) HINT testing; only 7 (9%) reported using BKB-SIN testing and 6 (8%) reported using CUNY scores. Fifty-one (68%) reported routine use of speech-in-noise testing to determine adult cochlear implant candidacy, 21 (28%) reported selective use only when patient scores were borderline in quiet, and 3 (4%) reported that their center does not currently use testing in noise for candidacy determination. Nineteen (26%) solely used +10 dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), 12 (16%) solely used +5 dB SNR, and 41 (55%) used both +10 and +5 dB SNR. Overall, 19% (N = 14) only perform unilateral implantation in the Medicare population, while 81% (N = 58) consider bilateral implantation.
Significant variation in cochlear implant candidacy assessment and off-label implantation exists across centers and providers in the United States resulting in healthcare inequities. The high percentage of surgeons performing implantations for off-label or nontraditional indications reflects the overly restrictive and dated status of current implant guidelines. With greater adoption of more difficult speech perception testing in noise, careful clinical judgment is needed to maintain a favorable risk–benefit balance for prospective implant candidates.