Tele-Dysphagia Management: An Opportunity for Prevention, Cost-Savings and Advanced Training
Many patients survive severe stroke because of aggressive management in intensive care units. However, acquiring pneumonia during the post-onset phase significantly reduces both the quality and likelihood of survival. Aspiration pneumonia (AP), a relatively recent addition to the list of the pneumonias, is associated with dysphagia, a swallowing disorder that may cause aspiration of swallowed food or liquids mixed with bacterial pathogens common to saliva, or by aspiration of gastric contents due to emesis or gastroesophageal reflux. While it is within the purview of speech-language pathologists to provide evaluation, treatment, and management of dysphagia, the number of patients with dysphagia is growing faster than the number of qualified dysphagia clinicians. Because dysphagia consultations via telepractice are feasible and relatively accessible from a technological standpoint, they offer a promising strategy to bring the expertise of distant dysphagia experts to patients in underserved areas. Tele-dysphagia management has the potential to increase patients’ survival, enhance the expertise of primary, local clinicians, and reduce healthcare costs. Even a modest reduction in either hospital admissions for aspiration pneumonia, or in the length of stay for AP, could save the US health care system hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Wide spread tele-dysphagia management offers significant opportunities for prevention, cost-savings and advanced training, and is therefore worthy of consideration by stakeholders in the health care system and university training programs.
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