Dysphagia evaluation practices: inconsistencies in clinical assessment and instrumental examination decision-making

Dysphagia. 2003 Spring;18(2):114-25. doi: 10.1007/s00455-002-0094-z.


The purpose of this study was to determine the nature of swallowing evaluation practices in western Washington, specifically in terms of (a) components of the clinical examination most commonly used, (b) consistency of clinical examination practices across clinicians, and (c) consistency of clinical decision-making (instrumental vs. noninstrumental) given specific patient scenarios. A 21-question survey was sent to 150 speech-language pathologists who provide services to dysphagia patients. Of the 72 (48%) surveys that were returned, 64 provided the data for the study. The results revealed that clinicians who responded to the survey differ somewhat regarding which components they include in a clinical examination of swallowing. There was a high degree of consistency for 11 of the 19 components. Inconsistency across clinicians was revealed in four areas: assessment of sensory function, assessment of the gag reflex, cervical auscultation, and assessment of trial swallows using compensatory techniques. Clinicians agreed in their recommendations on two of the six clinical case scenarios. In general, participating clinicians varied widely in their clinical decision-making. These findings are compared with other studies where variability in clinical practice has raised concerns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Deglutition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Deglutition Disorders / therapy*
  • Health Care Surveys / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Process Assessment, Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Washington