Assessing swallowing disorders online: a pilot telerehabilitation study.

Sharma S, Ward EC, Burns C, Theodoros D, Russell T.

Telemed J E Health. 2011 Nov;17(9):688-95. Epub 2011 Sep 1.



Dysphagia (a swallowing disorder) is known to occur in numerous clinical populations, but unfortunately because of issues accessing speech pathology services, not all patients are able to receive dysphagia intervention and rehabilitation services in a timely manner. Existing research supports the use of telehealth technology for providing various aspects of speech pathology service; however, to date there is limited evidence to support the utilization of telerehabilitation in the assessment and management of dysphagia. The aim of this research was to provide pilot information on the basic feasibility and validity of conducting dysphagia assessments via telerehabilitation.


Ten simulated patients, actors portraying patients with a range of swallowing difficulties, were used rather than actual patients to minimize any potential patient risk from unidentified aspiration. Dysphagia was assessed simultaneously by a face-to-face (FTF) and telerehabilitation speech pathologist (T-SP). Each simulated patient was assessed using a Clinical Swallowing Examination (CSE) protocol that was modified to suit a telerehabilitation environment. The CSE was administered with the support of an assistant via an Internet-based videoconferencing telerehabilitation system using a bandwidth of 128 kilobits per second.


Results revealed high to excellent levels of agreement between the T-SP and the FTF-SP across all parameters of the CSE. Agreement for aspiration risk was excellent.


The pilot data indicate that the current model of administering a CSE via telerehabilitation has potential to be a feasible and valid method for the remote assessment of swallowing disorders.


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