Objective and Subjective Clinical Swallowing Outcomes via Telehealth: Reliability in Outpatient Clinical Practice.


Borders JC(1), Sevitz JS(1), Malandraki JB(2), Malandraki GA(2)(3), Troche MS(1).
Author information:
(1)Laboratory for the Study of Upper Airway Dysfunction, Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
(2)Purdue I-EaT Swallowing Research Lab, Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.
(3)Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.


Purpose The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically increased the use of telehealth. Prior studies of telehealth clinical swallowing evaluations provide positive evidence for telemanagement of swallowing. However, the reliability of these measures in clinical practice, as opposed to well-controlled research conditions, remains unknown. This study aimed to investigate the reliability of outcome measures derived from clinical swallowing tele-evaluations in real-world clinical practice (e.g., variability in devices and Internet connectivity, lack of in-person clinician assistance, or remote patient/caregiver training). Method Seven raters asynchronously judged clinical swallowing tele-evaluations of 12 movement disorders patients. Outcomes included the Timed Water Swallow Test (TWST), Test of Masticating and Swallowing Solids (TOMASS), and common observations of oral intake. Statistical analyses were performed to examine inter- and intrarater reliability, as well as qualitative analyses exploring patient and clinician-specific factors impacting reliability. Results Forty-four trials were included for reliability analyses. All rater dyads demonstrated "good" to "excellent" interrater reliability for measures of the TWST (intraclass correlation coefficients [ICCs] ≥ .93) and observations of oral intake (≥ 77% agreement). The majority of TOMASS outcomes demonstrated "good" to "excellent" interrater reliability (ICCs ≥ .84), with the exception of the number of bites (ICCs = .43-.99) and swallows (ICCs = .21-.85). Immediate and delayed intrarater reliability were "excellent" for most raters across all tasks, ranging between ICCs of .63 and 1.00. Exploratory factors potentially impacting reliability included infrequent instances of suboptimal video quality, reduced camera stability, camera distance, and obstruction of the patient's mouth during tasks. Conclusions Subjective observations of oral intake and objective measures taken from the TWST and the TOMASS can be reliably measured via telehealth in clinical practice. Our results provide support for the feasibility and reliability of telehealth for outpatient clinical swallowing evaluations during COVID-19 and beyond. Supplemental Material https://doi.org/10.23641/asha.13661378.