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

Christoph Palli, Simon Fandler, Kathrin Doppelhofer, Kurt Niederkorn, Christian Enzinger, Christian Vetta, Esther Trampusch, Reinhold Schmidt, Franz Fazekas, Thomas Gattringer
Stroke; a Journal of Cerebral Circulation 2017, 48 (9): 2583-2585

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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