Evaluating the Feasibility and Validity of Using Trained Allied Health Assistants to Assist in Mealtime Monitoring of Dysphagic Patients
Schwarz, M., Ward, E.C., Cornwell, P., Coccett,i A., Kalapac, N.J.D.
Growing patient numbers, within a context of finite resources, has placed increased demands on dysphagia services in acute settings. Delegating some aspects of dysphagia management to other trained professional groups, such as allied health assistants (AHA), may help speech-language pathology (SLP) service efficiencies. The primary aim of this study was to explore the feasibility and initial validity of using trained AHAs to complete structured mealtime observations of patients. The secondary aims were to explore costs and user perceptions. The study used a mixed methods design. All AHAs who participated worked in the adult acute inpatient setting and were agreeable to participate; they successfully completed training and were deemed competent to use the observation tool. To explore validity, trained AHAs (n = 7) and SLPs (n = 5) conducted independent, simultaneous mealtime observations of 50 adult inpatients, using a structured observation form. Costs of AHA versus SLP time per average assessment were compared. Consumer perceptions were examined in semi-structured interviews with the AHA (n = 5) and SLP participants (n = 3). Exact agreement between AHA and SLPs on the overall pass/fail criteria was high (94%). Where exact agreement was not achieved, the AHA had made a more conservative decision. Salary costs and time savings for the SLP were identified. Interviews identified that both SLPs and AHAs perceived multiple positive personal and service benefits. High levels of agreement in clinical decisions and positive staff perceptions support feasibility and initial clinical validity. This model may assist SP efficiencies in services with high patient demand.