Exploring the Validity and Operational Impact of Using Allied Health Assistants to Conduct Dysphagia Screening for Low-Risk Patients Within the Acute Hospital Setting
Maria Schwarz, Elizabeth C. Ward, Petrea Cornwell, Anne Coccetti, Pamela D'Netto, Aimee Smith and Katharine Morley-Davies
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine (a) the agreement between allied health assistants (AHAs) and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) when completing dysphagia screening for low-risk referrals and at-risk patients under a delegation model and (b) the operational impact of this delegation model.
Method: All AHAs worked in the adult acute inpatient settings across three hospitals and completed training and competency evaluation prior to conducting independent screening. Screening (pass/fail) was based on results from pre-screening exclusionary questions in combination with a water swallow test and the Eating Assessment Tool. To examine the agreement of AHAs' decision making with SLPs, AHAs (n = 7) and SLPs (n = 8) conducted an independent, simultaneous dysphagia screening on 51 adult inpatients classified as low-risk/at-risk referrals. To examine operational impact, AHAs independently completed screening on 48 low-risk/at-risk patients, with subsequent clinical swallow evaluation conducted by an SLP with patients who failed screening.
Results: Exact agreement between AHAs and SLPs on overall pass/fail screening criteria for the first 51 patients was 100%. Exact agreement for the two tools was 100% for the Eating Assessment Tool and 96% for the water swallow test. In the operational impact phase (n = 48), 58% of patients failed AHA screening, with only 10% false positives on subjective SLP assessment and nil identified false negatives.
Conclusion: AHAs demonstrated the ability to reliably conduct dysphagia screening on a cohort of low-risk patients, with a low rate of false negatives. Data support high level of agreement and positive operational impact of using trained AHAs to perform dysphagia screening in low-risk patients.