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Can swallowing assessments be conducted via telehealth?

Telehealth is a rapidly growing space for our allied health professionals, specifically when it comes to our Speech Pathology practice at OSCAR Care Group. We know the importance of supporting adults with communication and swallowing across the nation. Due to several barriers such as rural and remote populations, people living with complex disabilities that limit their mobility, and finding an available therapist, sourcing a local Speech Pathologist can be very difficult in this current climate. Telehealth provides an opportunity for Speech Pathologists to service you around Australia, from the comfort of your own environment.

Let’s find out how.

virtual telehealth swallowing assessment dysphagia

What is telehealth practice?

Telehealth practice refers to providing a healthcare service via an online format. This can include phone or video calls between the patient and the practitioner, as opposed to the traditional ‘face to face’ service delivery model. This is typically completed using a device such as a mobile phone or laptop/computer.

Telehealth Swallowing assessments with a Speech Pathologist

Swallowing assessments or ‘clinical swallowing examinations’ (CSE) can be completed via telehealth. This allows the Speech Pathologist to observe the patient’s swallowing when eating and drinking, and provide clinical recommendations based on the outcomes. This can be particularly useful for residential aged care facilities in a rural or remote area, where finding a face-to-face therapist can be difficult.

Furthermore, due to the changes that the covid-19 pandemic has brought about, telehealth can be a successful option if a resident or facility has a covid-19 outbreak, or any other circumstances where a therapist is unable to attend in person.

Swallowing assessments via telehealth have been shown to:

  • Be deemed clinically safe for patients according to research and evidenced-based practice when conducted well such as following appropriate guidelines.

  • In some circumstances, can be just as effective compared to that of an in-person consultation.

  • Have many benefits for both the patient, their support team, and the Speech Pathologist.

8 Benefits of a telehealth consultation with a Speech Pathologist

  • No travel time for the patient, staff member/carer or therapist

  • More immediate support, as the therapist can provide online support sooner than needing to travel to a location. For patients with urgent needs, this can be a significant benefit to telehealth.

  • For patients with limited mobility or physical disabilities, they do not need to go anywhere, the laptop or device can be taken to them for the consultation.

  • No additional costs or billing for travel time compared to that of an in-person consultation.

  • If a patient is unwell, telehealth can be a great backup option to provide the required support without further risks of spreading illness. This can save time for both parties and minimise cancellations or rescheduling of consultations.

  • Infection control – heading into this winter and flu season, having one less person entering your home or aged care facility will minimise the risk of spreading any illnesses such as colds, flu and covid-19.

  • The Speech Pathologist can provide clinical recommendations and support during and immediately after a consultation.

  • The patient’s family members or carers can also join the consultation online if requested, from wherever they are located. This means they do not have to leave work or other commitments to be able to attend the consultation.

But what if….

Common concerns and questions about a telehealth swallowing assessments

There are known limitations to both a clinical swallowing assessment in general, and also that via telehealth. Here are some of the ways we can address those concerns to a successful telehealth session.

Common Questions and concerns with swallowing assessments via telehealth


Poor internet connection or phone reception – particularly in rural/remote settings, or inside of buildings such as residential aged care, internet connection can be weak.

  • ​For poor Wi-Fi connection, have cellular data available as a back-up option.

  • Find the best room inside of your building that has the strongest internet connection.

  • Use a program that uses less data such as Facetime or Zoom, compared to that of Microsoft teams that requires higher-speed internet to work.

​Is it safe to complete a swallowing assessment via telehealth? What if the patient is choking or aspirating?

  • ​Based on research and evidenced based practice, it has been shown that telehealth swallowing assessments are safe. Speech Pathologists are highly trained in completing these assessments and will provide clear and strict instructions to the person assisting the patient to ensure of their safety.

  • Furthermore, your Speech Pathologist will discuss a safety plan if an emergency arises during the assessment, prior to the consultation.

​In residential aged-care, our mealtimes (such as breakfast or lunch) are too busy for staff to be able to facilitate a swallowing assessment via telehealth.

​Telehealth swallowing assessments can be completed any time of the day, it does not need to be over the patient’s allocated ‘mealtime’. Your Speech Pathologist can work flexibly around you!

​The patient is unwell on the day of the appointment or refuses to eat or drink in front of the Speech Pathologist. Can an assessment still be completed?

  • The Speech Pathologist will make an informed decision based on the patient’s current level of functioning on the day of the consultation if it is safe or appropriate for the assessment to proceed.

  • If the patient is unwell or refuses to eat or drink, we cannot force them to do this. The Speech Pathologist may still be able to make clinical recommendations based on information gathered from the supports without a formal assessment of eating/drinking.

  • This will depend on the patients circumstances e.g. end of life care vs. active care and still seeking ‘improvement.’

Telehealth is great option for other Speech Pathology practice areas too

We can also service adults for other Speech Pathology practice areas via telehealth outside of clinical swallowing assessments. This might include patients across the lifespan, with different goals and conditions. For example, teenagers and adults with disabilities or neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease or Dementia.

The Speech Pathologist can complete telehealth assessments and therapy for:

  • Voice

  • Speech

  • Language

  • Swallowing

  • Social communication

If you or someone you know is wanting Speech Pathology support, get in touch with our team today to book your telehealth consultation. We’re here to help you!


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