Early Dysphagia Screening by Trained Nurses Reduces Pneumonia Rate in Stroke Patients: A Clinical Intervention Study

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Abstract

Background and Purpose—

Dysphagia is a common stroke symptom and leads to serious complications such as aspiration and pneumonia. Early dysphagia screening can reduce these complications. In many hospitals, dysphagia screening is performed by speech–language therapists who are often not available on weekends/holidays, which results in delayed dysphagia assessment.

Methods—

We trained the nurses of our neurological department to perform formal dysphagia screening in every acute stroke patient by using the Gugging Swallowing Screen. The impact of a 24/7 dysphagia screening (intervention) over swallowing assessment by speech–language therapists during regular working hours only was compared in two 5-month periods with time to dysphagia screening, pneumonia rate, and length of hospitalization as outcome variables.

Results—

Overall, 384 patients (mean age, 72.3±13.7 years; median National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale score of 3) were included in the study. Both groups (pre-intervention, n=198 versus post-intervention, n=186) were comparable regarding age, sex, and stroke severity. Time to dysphagia screening was significantly reduced in the intervention group (median, 7 hours; range, 1–69 hours) compared with the control group (median, 20 hours; range, 1–183; P=0.001). Patients in the intervention group had a lower rate of pneumonia (3.8% versus 11.6%; P=0.004) and also a reduced length of hospital stay (median, 8 days; range, 2–40 versus median, 9 days; range, 1–61 days; P=0.033).

Conclusions—

24/7 dysphagia screening can be effectively performed by nurses and leads to reduced pneumonia rates. Therefore, empowering nurses to do a formal bedside screening for swallowing dysfunction in stroke patients timely after admission is warranted whenever speech–language therapists are not available.

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