Rapid move to remote dysphagia consultations

The Covid-19 pandemic has expedited digital transformation within the health and care landscape with telehealth being introduced at pace and scale as a measure to prevent the spread of infection.

In a letter to NHS health and care organisations on 19th March 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement set out several arrangements to release capacity in support of the COVID-19 response. This specifically advised “By default, use digital technology to provide advice and support to patients wherever possible… Prioritise tele-swallowing for Speech and Language Therapy.”

In areas where the implementation of telehealth has been a natural extension of existing clinical practice, the transition may have been smooth for both clinicians and patients. However, for others, like Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) where face-to-face appointments are the norm, this ‘new normal’ may have posed several challenges.

Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs), would typically assess a person’s ability to swallow at an outpatient clinic or during a home visit, neither of which have been possible over the last few months. So, whilst the concept of telehealth is not necessarily new, Teleswallowing® has taken some time to make its way into mainstream therapeutic services but is set to rise exponentially.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) state: “This will be particularly relevant when social contact in the healthcare context is minimised to prevent infection. However, there are positive benefits to the use of telehealth, even when such restrictions are not in place.”

So, as those NHS services deemed non-essential during the Covid-19 response start up again, will SLTs take advantage of this technological leap to improve efficiency and patient experience in the long term? Teleswallowing has been proven to reduce costs, save time, improve productivity, increase capacity and enhance quality of care which is one of the key reasons Alimento has partnered with Teleswallowing Limited - to support healthcare professionals with this new way of working.

How can Teleswallowing benefit patients?

The RCSLT states that early speech and language therapy input can improve patient care and outcomes. The Teleswallowing approach can therefore be used to increase capacity which has a direct impact on SLT’s ability to see more patients; therefore reducing patient waiting times between referral and assessment.

For an elderly or frail individual, attending an outpatient clinic can be a daunting experience, causing anxiety and distress. Remote swallowing assessments can be carried out without disruption to the patient, in a familiar setting.

Remote consultations also reduce the risk of cross-infection of viruses (Covid-19, Norovirus etc.)

How can Teleswallowing benefit healthcare professionals?

Remote dysphagia assessments and consultations can improve productivity of both clinical staff and carers, ensuring they have more time to deliver care.

There is also a greater opportunity to include more than one clinician in an assessment which can assist in the training and support of junior colleagues, family and carers.

What are the components for successful implementation of Teleswallowing?

The success of the Teleswallowing process relies on several factors, including the need for full stakeholder buy in. Operationalising technological change is not typically a clinical skillset and so it is also essential that all participants in the Teleswallowing process are adequately trained; from the SLT carrying out the assessment to the assessment assistant present with the patient at the time of the consultation.

In NHS Trusts where Teleswallowing’s training packages have been adopted, the sites reported no loss of rapport between the person being assessed and the SLT and no reduction in diagnostic accuracy.

Contact us for more details on how Alimento and Teleswallowing can support your HCP training requirements.