3 Things to Stop Doing in Dysphagia Assessment and Treatment


Have you ever taken a moment to look at and assess your own treatment and  evaluation techniques?

Too often we become content with what we’re doing and stop looking to new research to continue to grow in our profession.

Dysphagia is it with growing in rapidly progressing field with new research  published.

How often are we completing the same clinical swallowing evaluation without modifying the technique?  We often do the same oral motor assessment and watch the patient eat. We don’t always assess using measurable techniques such as peak flow, lingual measurements from Lazarus, or even a cranial nerve exam.

Perhaps we are not providing enough education to other medical professionals to actually understand what we’re doing. Somewhere along the line we have educated physicians and nurses that we complete a modified barium swallow study to rule out or confirm aspiration or penetration. They often don’t realize the extent of our assessment and how we are assessing anatomy and physiology including tech Meeks to change both to increase efficiency of the swallow.

  1.  Stop “watching” patients in the dining room.

In her evaluation and treatment book Dr. Logan wrote that therapy should be separate from the dining room. That we should not be sitting with the patient at the table watching them eat and then billing for therapy.

Dr. Carnaby gave us a list including a dissection of water treatment session should look like. The treatment session, according to Dr. Carnaby should include:

  • No talking (chit chat)
  • No compensation
  • Agressive Intervention
  • Verbal, visual feedback
  • Direct in repetitions, effort, control

A dysphagia therapy session should focus on rehabilitation of the swallow, when the patient is appropriate.

2.  Stop not recommending instrumental assessment.

There is no way to accurately determine bolus flow once the mouth has closed and to see anything pharyngeally without instrumentation.  Instrumental assessments are critical to our accurate diagnosis of dysphagia and treatment planning.  Doctors can look at a patient and see that they’ve had a stroke, but will require a CT scan or MRI to determine the location and nature of the stroke, which is critical to treatment.  Not every person will require instrumentation however with the increasing availability of Flexible Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) and Modified Barium Swallow Studies (MBSS) we need to use utilize these assessments when appropriate.

3.  Stop asking for an instrumental assessment to determine if the patient is aspirating.

Instrumentation has so many uses beyond identifying aspiration.  A radiologist can determine if a patient is aspirating.  As an SLP we should be using the MBSS to determine “why” the person is aspirating.  We should be looking at anatomy and physiology, trialling compensatory strategies, determining accuracy of completion of maneuvers such as the Mendelsohn and maybe even watching NMES under fluoro.  This should be an assessment to develop an appropriate therapy protocol.

We are skilled Speech Language Pathologists.  We need to show this through our assessment and treatment, particularly with changes to healthcare and changes to payment systems.  Let’s start using the skills we have acquired!




Quality education can be hard to find. Not all continuing education is evidenced-based or even good quality.

So how do you know which company to choose? To meet ASHA guidelines all continuing education is supposed to be peer-reviewed by Speech Language Pathologists with experience in the area being taught.

Remember that just because a course is offered for ASHA see use does not mean that it is endorsed by ASHA.   ASHA does provide requirements for CE providers which can be found here.

There are a handful of companies that I trust for my continuing education one of those being MedBridge. MedBridge is a subscription service or pay by course. They offer peer reviewed continuing education courses top by leading experts and ASHA Fellows in the field.

MedBridge courses are offered online making learning convenient and easy in the comfort of your own home.  MedBridge also offers their courses on mobile devices making it easy to take your learning on the go.  (I work in home health and often have long drives.)  Listening to a course on the go is easy with MedBridge.

When considering what to look for and avoid in continuing education, MedBridge hits the mark with quality courses.

I’ve had the pleasure to take several great and well taught evidence based courses including:

Stopping Falls: Evaluation of Community-Dwelling Older Adults

Introduction to Critical Care for Speech Language Pathologists

Fraud, Waste, Abuse and Other Legal Considerations

Attacking the Literature: From Journal to Bedside

Pharmocology for Geriatric Patients 

Interested in checking out MedBridge for yourself?  Use the code  DysphagiaRamblings        to sign up!  (You can click on the link for a discounted rate!)

Modified Barium Swallow Study: Gold Standard or Old News?

Instrumental assessments are always a hot topic on social media.  For many years now the Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS) also known as Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study or the Cookie Swallow, has been considered the gold standard for dysphagia assessment.  Flexible Endoscopic Examination of Swallowing (FEES) has become increasingly more popular and utilized, but for the purposes of this post only the MBSS will be discussed.
Why are we only looking at Aspiration and Penetration?

Often the reason for completing a Modified Barium Swallow Study is to determine the “presence of aspiration and to choose the most appropriate diet for the patient.”   An MBSS should be completed to assess the anatomy and physiology of the swallow to determine the appropriate treatment plan.  When the SLP evaluates a patient clinically, once that patient closes the mouth we can only infer what is happening.  We may have a good judgement, however an instrumental assessment can confirm or deny that judgement.

Not only does the MBSS confirm the anatomy and physiology, but should also be used to determine the effectiveness of compensatory strategies such as a chin tuck or head turn.  You can also view the effects of NMES (Vitalstim, Ampcare, eSwallow, Guardian) on the swallow with the MBSS.  For example, how do you know the Mendelsohn is effective or that the patient is even completing it in the correct manner if you haven’t viewed it under fluoroscopy?

Dr. Jeri Logemann described the Modified Barium Swallow Study as having a primary purpose to determine the presence and reason for aspiration as a basis for treatment.  (Logemann, Jeri A., and Jeri A. Logemann. “Evaluation and treatment of swallowing disorders.” (1983): 210.)

Dr. Logemann has set a protocol for administration of barium as 2 swallows of each:  thin liquids (1 ml, 3 ml, 5 ml, 10 ml, and cup drinks), pudding and 1/4 of a Lorna Doone cookie with barium.  (Logemann, Jeri A. Manual for the videofluorographic study of swallowing. Pro ed, 1993.)

The MBSS is used for more than determining a diet level.

The MBSS is not meant to test every consistency available.  It is often referred to as a “moment in time” or “not realistic to everyday consumption of a patient.”   The MBSS is meant to be a measure of the swallowing physiology, not a test of every consistency the patient may or may not consume.  Fatigue can be addressed during the swallow study by turning off the fluoro after the initial swallows, allowing the person to eat or drink and then continuing the fluoro.

In an article by Robbins et al, “The modified barium swallow permits direct observatino of oropharyngeal behavior and bolus transit from the oral cavity through the cervical esophagus during swallowing.”  (Robbins, Jo Anne, et al. “A modification of the modified barium swallow.” Dysphagia 2.2 (1987): 83-86.)

The Modified Barium Swallow Impairment Profile (MBSImP) defines 17 components of the swallow as listed below.  The protocol includes trials of thin liquids, nectar thick liquids (via tsp, cup and/or straw with a cued swallow and spontaneous swallow), pudding and cookie/cracker.  You can test other consistencies but it was determined through research that these consistencies may be enough for most patients.  Nectar thick liquids are assessed even in the absence of penetration/aspiration of thin liquids as the structural movements may increase with the thicker consistency liquid.  (Martin-Harris, Bonnie, et al. “MBS measurement tool for swallow impairment—MBSImp: establishing a standard.” Dysphagia 23.4 (2008): 392-405.)

17 Components of the Swallow:

1. Lip Closure

2. Tongue Control During Bolus Hold

3. Bolus Preparation/Mastication

4. Bolus Transport/Lingual Motion

5. Oral Residue

6. Initiation of the pharyngeal swallow

7. Soft Palate Elevation

8. Laryngeal Elevation

9. Anterior Hyoid Excursion

10. Epiglottic Movement

11. Laryngeal Vestibular Closure

12. Pharyngeal Stripping Wave

13. Pharyngeal Contraction

14. Pharyngoesophageal Segment (PES) Opening

15. Tongue Base Retraction

16. Pharyngeal Residue

17. Esophageal Clearance

Please don’t stop with aspiration.

Often MBS Studies are discontinued because the patient aspirates.  This should be the time you trial compensations and strategies to stop aspiration.  This study probably isn’t the first time the patient aspirated.  They are coming in for a swallow study aren’t they?  It is your job to determine why they are aspirating and how to stop it.

Communication is key.

As the treating SLP, it is so important to get information to the SLP completing the instrumental assessment regarding patient history, why you are ordering the study and possibly even some information about your tentative treatment plan, current diet level, etc.  Most patients are not able to relay the information the same way an SLP would, if at all.

As the assessing SLP or the SLP completing the instrumental assessment, it is critical that the treating SLP receive a report they can use to build a treatment plan.  It is impossible to educate a patient on why they are on an altered diet or why they need to use such and such compensation when the SLP is unsure.  The report needs to include compensations trialed and effective or ineffective.  It’s also very difficult to know what consistencies, amounts, etc to use for therapeutic trials if the study was discontinued after one instance of aspiration on a teaspoon of thin.

You won’t get an instrumental assessment if you don’t request it.

Often instrumental assessments are not recommended for a variety of reasons.  Maybe you have sent multiple patients out for an MBSS and the report is not what you need to create a solid treatment protocol.  Maybe the patient refuses or the doctor refuses or the facility refuses.

It is time that we educate physicians, nurses and other medical professionals on the purpose of the MBSS.  Physicians often know or have a good idea that a patient had a stroke.  They still use the CT scan and/or MRI to determine size of stroke, location of stroke and whether the stroke is acute or an old infarct.  We need the same diligence in our field to assess dysphagia beyond just penetration/aspiration and diet selection.  Whether the physician orders the MBSS or the patient participates should be irrelevant to our recommendation for MBSS.  If we believe the MBSS is an important tool to our patient’s care, document and recommend.


5 Considerations for Continuing Education

If you are like me, you are inundated with social media advertisements for various certification or continuing education courses.
The question is…..which do you choose?

We most certainly can’t afford to attend every course or obtain every certification.  So how do we figure out which courses are worth our time and money?

  1.  The course is ASHA approved for CEUs-Be aware.  Just because the course provides you with ASHA CEUs doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good course.  While courses are required to be peer-reviewed for ASHA, that doesn’t mean the course is the cream of the crop.  ASHA also does not endorse any specific treatment or tools.  We still have to be conscientious learners.
  2. The course offers “fast” results-I have had the very few patients that met their goals in a short amount of time.   When we work with patients with dysphagia, we are typically working on changing muscles.  This involves strength, coordination and timing.  I can’t go to the gym and strengthen my arms in “just a few sessions”.
  3. Watch the evidence base-A new course can have 150 different references to “support” it’s use.  Read the evidence.  Some may not even be related to the technique you are learning.
  4. Does it really make sense?-The presenter may have you convinced by the end of a course or even through the advertisement that this new technique works wonders because of x, y, z.  Sit down and think about this.  (This is where our critical thinking caps must be ready to go!)  Does this technique make sense?  If I have a patient concentrate on working their knee, is that really going to change the swallowing system?
  5. Use your social media-Post in Facebook groups, use Twitter, Pinterest or even the ASHA SIG groups to question new courses and techniques.  You shouldn’t have to shell out thousands of dollars on a technique that doesn’t work.  You can absolutely keep an open mind to new techniques but maybe others in these forums can help you problem-solve why these techniques may or may not work.

We all work hard for our money and time is a precious commodity.  Choose continuing education and new techniques with care and always hold the welfare of your patients paramount.

What are some courses you have really enjoyed or wish you would have skipped?

What do you think would be the best resource to use to share and look up quality, evidence-based continuing education courses?

Productivity and the SLP

One of the top concerns of Speech Language Pathologists in the healthcare world is the topic of productivity.

A Google search of the word productivity:

  1. the state or quality of producing something, especially crops.
    “the long-term productivity of land”
    • the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.
      “workers have boosted productivity by 30 percent”
      the rate of production of new biomass by an individual, population, or community; the fertility or capacity of a given habitat or area.
      “nutrient-rich waters with high productivity”

    Productivity in a facility such as a hospital or Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) is measured by the amount of time spent working directly (or billed) for patients divided by total time in the facility.

    Many SLPs are reporting productivity expectations of 90% or higher.  

    A productivity of 90% would be 432 minutes of your work day spent in therapy with patients out of your 480 minute (8 hour) work day.  This leaves 48 minutes of your work day for paperwork, conferences, meetings, bathroom breaks, consultation with other disciplines, etc.

    Why is productivity difficult to achieve?

    The person you are looking for is never where you go to find them.  There are times that you may have to search the entire facility.  There are at least 270 places to hide and to search to find the last person you need to see on your list.  The person that has to be seen on THAT day and for xxx number of minutes.  You may spend 20 minutes of your day just finding someone who knows where the person for whom you are looking is hiding!


    Point of care documentation (documenting as you are treating) is a great idea, but sometimes it is very difficult to actually complete.  You may have every intention of giving your patient/client some work to complete as you document but in our field, that can be difficult.  We may be working on cognition where the person requires your undivided attention to complete anything.  You may be working on swallowing and need to cue your patient through every therapeutic trial or swallow.

    Documentation is so important as it is a written account of your session.  This is not only what gets your facility reimbursed by insurance, but it also highlights outcomes and progress and is your protection should you ever have to defend your therapy in court.  Documentation is also where another SLP can determine what you have been doing so that they can step in and take over should you go on vacation or get sick.

    Why do we need time for consultation with other disciplines?

    Outcome based therapy is a direction in which our field has been moving for years.  Our reimbursement is becoming bundled and will very much depend on the effectiveness of our treatments and a decrease in the rate of re-hospitalization.  When we are talking about patients with swallowing difficulties, being able to consult with others that help to care for the patient is crucial.  The SLP needs to be able to talk to nursing and let them know the patient needs to have nectar thick liquids and use a chin tuck with their pills crushed and given in applesauce.  The nurse may not see a note if you leave it.  The Physical Therapist may get the patient, not realize they are on thickened liquids and give the person water during their therapy.

    Consultation between facility SLPs is equally as important.  We all know that documentation from the Modified Barium Swallow (MBSS) does not necessarily make it from the acute care hospital to the Skilled Nursing Facility.  What if the SNF SLP then makes incorrect recommendations.

    By having time for consultation, we can provide the patient with the best care possible.

    How do we fix this productivity issue?

    First, I would like to recognize that this is not an issue for every SLP or every facility.  I have been fortunate to have jobs with very reasonable productivity expectations.  I am currently expected to have 27 visit points for home health, which has been more than obtainable on a regular, full week.

    This topic is a hot one on Facebook.  How do we fix this problem?  As long as there are people “achieving” this productivity standard, it won’t change.  SLPs are often faced with clocking out for documentation, consultation or even bathroom breaks.  Showing the ones that expect such a high level of productivity that it can be achieved, will never make this issue go away.

    What is your take on productivity?  What is your productivity expectation?


Top 10 Blog Posts for 2016

2016 was a busy year here at Dysphagia Ramblings.  Unfortunately, the blog took the hit in the fight for time.

During 2016, Dysphagia Ramblings published 13 new blog posts.  Thank you to all for reading my posts and for always encouraging me just when I need it.

I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge, so there will be a new blog post everyday in January!  Plus there are exciting new additions coming to Dysphagia Ramblings.  I know I’m excited and hope that you are as well!

So, what were the top 10 blog posts for 2016?  Here you go!  Click on the title if you would like to reread the post for a re-fresher or if you would like to read it for the first time!  Here’s to a strong 2017 in blogland!

1.  “Aspiration Risk”  Take a look at the term “aspiration risk” and why we need to really think about this term before labeling our patients.

2. Carbonated Beverages  Explore the use of carbonated beverages and it’s sensory benefits.  Spoiler alert-carbonated beverages do not equal nectar thick liquids!

3. The Cost of Thickened Liquids  What does the use of thickened liquids really cost our patients?

4.  ACP and sEMG:  Synchrony for Dysphagia Taking a look at the new Synchrony system from ACP.  More than just a video game.

5.  CTAR (Chin Tuck Against Resistance) Using a chin tuck as an exercise rather than just a compensatory strategy.

6.  Exercises, Techniques, Compensations  Explore various exercises, techniques and compensations used in dysphagia therapy.

7.  Oral Care  Take a look at oral care and prevention of aspiration pneumonia.

8.  Respiratory Muscle Strength Training  What applications to dysphagia can we see from RMST?

9.  Thickened Jello?  Eileen from Simply Thick shares her recipe for thickened jello.

10.  Gelmix Thickener  A look at Gelmix thickener.

I am definitely looking forward to what 2017 brings!!  What are some topics that interest you?


One Little Word

Last year, I decided to adopt one little word that would spark my 2016.  My word was change.  Change for me ended up being attitude, job and habits.  I’m not completely there but still working.

That’s why my word for #onelittleword2017 is GROW.  I have so many areas in my life that I want to cultivate and GROW this year. 



I want to grow my blog.  I never believed when I started blogging 6 years ago that I would have been so blessed in my blogging and I would like to thank each and every one of you that read my blog for helping me grow over the past 6 years.


I want to continue to grow my education.   Not just take continuing education courses for the credits but continuing education for learning.  I want to continue to grow my education.


My goal for this year is to read at least 1 journal article every week in 2017.  Reading more is absolutely ok.   As long as I get 1 a week, meaning I will have read 52 articles for this year.

What are your goals for the year.   What is your #onelittleword2017?