NDCPD secures $196,000 contract
The North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities on Minot State University’s campus was recently awarded an exclusive two-year $196,000 federal contract. The contract partners NDCPD with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration to develop diagnostic, management and technical protocol that will be utilized as a basis to replicate audiologic testing of infants employing a telemedicine network. Ultimately, use of this technology will increase the number of babies receiving needed outpatient care throughout the nation.
Previously, NDCPD has received federal grants; this is the first federal contract that it has secured. More importantly, it places NDCPD and MSU in the unique position of establishing standards that will be utilized by the profession on a national basis.
"This contract is an attempt by DHHS to make it easier for parents of newborns who have a need for an audiological evaluation to receive those services closer to home. There are a limited number of pediatric audiologists in the country, and many times parents have to travel long distances in rural states to access these services," said Neil Scharpe, service contract specialist and Tele-audiology Contract Project director. "This project will look at setting equipment in rural areas but have a pediatric audiologist in a centralized location do the testing."
As a participant in the North Dakota Early Hearing, Detection and Intervention project for the past eight years, NDCPD understands the need to provide audiological testing for infants prior to three months. The most recent available data indicates that this state is completing newborn hearing screening on 93 percent of babies prior to hospital discharge. Unfortunately, 44 percent of those babies who do not pass the initial hearing screening are not returning for outpatient follow-up. It is difficult to get newborns who fail the initial hearing screening to return for a complete evaluation. In a rural setting such as North Dakota, the combination of travel and access to professionals has often led to a lack of testing.
The development of technology allows professionals to use video networks to view actual performance in remote locations. Pediatric audiologists will be able to direct the placement of electrodes by trained paraprofessionals and then manipulate evaluation equipment using computer technology from a distant location.
A management protocol will be able to explain a variety of approaches and methods that could be used to address problems that are encountered by this project. Meanwhile, a technical protocol will be used to replicate this procedure across the nation. This document will address issues such as minimum requirements of the network, equipment and procedures. Finally, a training manual for paraprofessionals, which would be used to train people in remote sites to connect infants to equipment while they are monitored and directed by a pediatric audiologist at a hub site, would be created.
NDCPD will serve as a hub facility by using MSU’s Interactive Video Network, which connects all public schools, regional health units and universities, and placing equipment in several remote locations to complete the initial testing of the process. Tele-audiology Contract Project staff members are: Scharpe; Tom Froelich, assistant professor of communication disorders, who will design the technical protocol and perform long-distance testing of infants; Steve Peterson, NDCPD online disabilities service coordinator, who will assist with system design and maintenance; Darren Seifert, NDCPD computer programmer, who will develop and maintain compatible software; and Nicole Adams, NDCPD office assistant, who will function as project secretary.
"This project will establish guidelines for audiological evaluations using the ‘hub and spoke’ concept where pediatric audiologists can be in their offices and perform evaluations on children in remote locations via the Internet. This will allow parents to remain closer to home instead of traveling to the audiologists’ offices," said Scharpe.
The project has specific timelines for completion of each element of the contract, with the entire project to be completed in two years. After completion of the contract’s components, the CDC project staff will be asked to provide technical expertise in the establishment of other teleaudiology networks in the United States.