University of Miami Health System audiologist Meredith Holcomb, Au.D., was appointed to the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing (JCIH), which helps guide the early diagnosis and treatment of children with hearing loss. Dr. Holcomb’s three-year appointment begins in January 2021.
Colleagues at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommended Dr. Holcomb as its liaison representative to the JCIH earlier this year. She will serve alongside about a dozen other professionals from all over the country, including audiologists, otolaryngologists, pediatricians, researchers and public policymakers. Together they will further the JCIH’s mission of addressing issues important to the early identification, intervention, and follow-up care of infants and young children with hearing loss.
Dr. Holcomb has 15 years of experience in the field of audiology and helps train audiologists who want to specialize in pediatric hearing loss and cochlear implantation.
“Over the years, I have given numerous lectures to other clinicians. In almost every lecture, I have talked about the JCIH and its important role in improving access to care for our pediatric patients,” Dr. Holcomb said. “I’m extremely humbled by this appointment and excited about making contributions that will help children with hearing loss receive the best care possible.”
Much of Dr. Holcomb’s expertise is in the area of cochlear implants. She directs the UHealth Ear Institute Cochlear Implant Program and also is chair of the American Cochlear Implant Alliance. This national organization helps improve access to cochlear implants, fuel research and increase awareness and advocacy about these devices.
Hillary Snapp, Au.D., Ph.D., chief of audiology and associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that as part of the JCIH leadership, Dr. Holcomb will help develop guidelines and recommendations that will influence the management of pediatric hearing loss worldwide.
“The initial work of the Joint Commission on Infant Hearing was groundbreaking, leading to universal newborn hearing screenings in the early 1990s. This dramatically impacted the lives of children with hearing loss in immeasurable ways,” Dr. Snapp said. “Dr. Holcomb’s appointment means she will help ensure the JCIH’s work will continue to be some of the most important in our field.”
Today, about 98% of newborns in the U.S. are screened for hearing loss. For every 1,000 babies screened, one to three are diagnosed with permanent hearing loss, one of the most common treatable disabilities in children. The earlier babies are diagnosed and treated for hearing loss, the better their long-term outcomes.
“The JCIH’s current guideline is that every baby is screened for hearing loss before one month of age, diagnosed by three months of age and treated — whether with a hearing aid or cochlear implant — by six months,” Dr. Holcomb said. “It’s an excellent guideline, but lately there has been discussion about pushing the schedule to even earlier in life. This will give children the best opportunity to access hearing, develop language skills, and keep up with their peers academically and socially.”
Dr. Holcomb’s passion for helping children hear is evident in the way she talks about her young patients.
“It’s an exciting time to be an audiologist because we are diagnosing and treating kids at young ages when treatment can be most effective,” she said. “Plus, the technology is changing rapidly — cochlear implants and hearing aids are so hi-tech. They even allow kids to stream sound straight from their tablets, smartphones and computers to their hearing devices, which opens up new avenues for them to engage in the world. These interventions can have a profound impact on a child’s life, and I love being part of that.”