Speech pathologists join Mater’s emergency department


Older patients are making faster and fuller recoveries from illness and accidents thanks to a project launched by Mater’s Speech Pathology team.

The initiative saw a speech pathologist placed in the Mater Hospital Brisbane’s emergency department, acute medical unit and emergency care unit to screen patients at high risk of dysphagia (difficulty swallowing food and drink).

Mater Speech Pathology Lead Lucy Lyons said 34 per cent of patients aged 65 and over were found to have slight to severe dysphagia.

“We’re not aware of any other hospital where Speech Pathologists proactively assess high-risk patients for dysphagia immediately post-presentation to hospital,” Ms Lyons said.

“Assessments are performed by nurses at some hospitals, but we are aware that nurses also need to complete a myriad of other tasks on a daily basis.

“Our aim was to see if we could support our nurses and provide the best care to our patients.

“Dysphagia is highly-correlated with poorer health outcomes, such as malnutrition and dehydration, and also increases the risk of pneumonia and mortality.

“Because dysphagia is not immediately obvious it can be overlooked, but our new screening ensures patients are identified on admission and receive the specialist care they need, as soon as possible. This enables patients to eat and drink safely sooner, and also reduces delays in the administration of important medical interventions, such as medication.”

This week (August 20-26) is Speech Pathology Week 2023 – a time to recognise the importance of ‘speechies’ for patients and the wider health system.

Ms Lyons said the success of the Mater Dysphagia Screening Project was just one example of the vital role that speech pathology has at Mater and other hospitals.

“Our results show that dysphagia screening and swift intervention makes a huge difference for the patients affected,” she said.

“In addition to stroke, patients with dysphagia were most likely to have been admitted because of falls, respiratory infections or COPD, delirium, backpain and dizziness.”

Speech pathologists manage dysphagia in hospital by providing patients with safe swallowing strategies, modifying diets and initiating therapies to improve swallowing muscle strength.

“When admitted to a ward, we estimate those in-patients remained in hospital for three days less than would otherwise have been the case,” Ms Lyons said.

“So our work is not only making a positive difference for dysphagia patients – it’s benefiting Mater’s hospitals, its staff and its patients.”

Patients can be referred to Mater at Home and other outpatient or community services to ensure they receive regular evaluation and support after leaving hospital.

The pilot 2022-23 Mater ED Dysphagia Screening Project has now been granted extra funding to continue at Mater Hospital Brisbane and will be led by Mater Speech Pathologist Tanya Hirst.

/Public Release. View in full here.