Health Care Utilization and Adults Who Are Deaf: Relationship with Age at Onset of Deafness

  • Steven Barnett and Peter Franks

Steven Barnett M.D Clinical Senior Instructor, Family Medicine Center, 885 South Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620. Peter Franks M.D Professor at the Primary Care Institute, Highland Hospital and Department of Family Medicine, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.


Objectives. To evaluate the health care utilization of a nationally representative sample of U.S. deaf adults while accounting for the age at onset of deafness, an indicator of linguistic and sociocultural group affiliation.

Data Sources/Study Setting. Data from the 1990 to 1991 National Health Interview Surveys, the most recent years the Hearing Supplement was administered. The data were collected during in-home interviews of a sample of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population.

Study Design. Cross-sectional analyses comparing health-related measures of adults deafened before (prelingually) and after (postlingually) the age of 3 and those of a representative sample of the general population, adjusting for sociodemographics and health status. Key measures were physician visits and preventive health care services utilization.

Principal Findings. Compared with the general population, prelingually deafened adults had fewer physician visits and were less likely to have visited a physician in the preceding 2 years, whereas postlingually deafened adults had more physician visits and were more likely to have visited a physician in the preceding 2 years. Postlingually deafened women were less likely to have had a mammogram within the previous 2 years.

Conclusions. In terms of health care utilization, the deaf population is heterogeneous. Prelingually deafened adults' use of health care is similar to that of other language minority groups. Postlingually deafened adults' use of health care services appears similar to people with chronic illness. Future studies must distinguish different groups of people with hearing loss in order to identify barriers and monitor improvements in health care services access.