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In a study of more than 2.4 million children under the age of 5, new research shows a significant increase in the rate of first-time speech delay diagnoses after July 2020.

Today Truveta announced new research published in JAMA Pediatrics exploring the incidence of first-time speech delays in children under the age of 5 prior to and during the pandemic. The research found a significant increase in the rate of children under the age of 5 being diagnosed with first-time speech delays since July 2020. For example, for the 2–3-year-old age group, that means 115 children in 10,000 received a first-time speech delay diagnosis who otherwise would not have, and 48 children in 10,000 for all groups under the age of 5.

In this analysis, using a subset of Truveta Data, Truveta Research identified children younger than 5 years with encounters between January 1, 2018, and February 28, 2023, and no previous speech delay diagnosis. Of the 2,463,511 included patients, 87,781 children (3.6%) had a first-time speech delay diagnosis within this period. The study found that 2-year-old patients had the highest rate of first-time speech delay diagnoses, followed by 1-year-old patients.

The study observed significant step increases in the number of diagnoses of speech delays overall following the onset of the pandemic. The results also showed larger increases over time in first-time diagnoses for the overall population. For children in the age groups over 1 year of age, there is a sustained increase in first-time speech delay diagnoses over time.

“Throughout the pandemic, I regularly chatted with a close friend – a speech and language pathologist who specializes in treating children aged 3 and under – about the increased demand in care she was seeing and the challenges that came with delivering speech therapy remotely. I was curious if what she was experiencing in the increased need for speech support services might be true across the country,” said Brianna Cartwright, MS, principal research analyst, Truveta researcher and lead author on the study. “The results of this study – in conjunction with my friend’s experience and published literature that shows the challenges of delivering therapy during the pandemic – indicates that not only are kids getting diagnosed at higher rates, but also therapy for those kids was harder to administer, potentially compounding the effects.”

“As a pediatrician, researcher, and mom, it’s important to study the lingering impacts – both large and small – of the pandemic on children,” said Sarah Stewart, MD, senior clinical informaticist at Truveta, practicing pediatrician at Allegro Pediatrics, and an author on the study. “The results of this study are a great reminder to pediatricians to use a more critical lens when screening children for learning disabilities post-pandemic, with the goal of connecting patients with services as needed.”

Truveta delivers the most complete, timely, and clean electronic health record (EHR) data from more than 100 million patients across more than 30 health systems, empowering researchers with scientifically rigorous analytics to study safety and effectiveness, improve patient care, and train medical AI.

You can read the full study in JAMA Pediatrics. You can also read about the initial findings of this study in The Wall Street JournalIf Your Toddler Isn’t Talking Yet, the Pandemic Might Be to Blame.

About Truveta

Truveta is a growing collective of health systems that provide more than 18% of all daily clinical care in the US. Truveta is trusted by more than 50 leading healthcare and life science customers to study safety and effectiveness, improve patient care, and train medical AI. Across these leading organizations, Truveta connects data, people, and ideas to pursue a shared mission of saving lives with data.

Truveta membership includes ProvidenceAdvocate HealthTrinity HealthTenet HealthcareNorthwell HealthAdventHealthBaptist Health of Northeast FloridaBaylor Scott & White HealthBon Secours Mercy HealthCommonSpirit HealthHawaii Pacific HealthHealthPartnersHenry Ford Health SystemHonorHealthInovaLehigh Valley Health NetworkMedStar HealthMemorial Hermann Health SystemMetroHealthNovant HealthOchsner HealthPremier HealthSaint Luke’s Health SystemSanford HealthSentara HealthcareTexas Health ResourcesTriHealthUnityPoint HealthVirtua Health, and WellSpan Health.