Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice

Evaluating service delivery for speech and swallowing problems following paediatric brain injury: an international survey

Journal Article

Abstract

Rationale, aims and objectives  Little is documented about contemporary management of speech and swallowing disorders associated with paediatric acquired brain injury (ABI). It is therefore challenging for clinicians in this field to benchmark their clinical management against current evidence or practices undertaken in other centres. To address this issue, we aimed to provide much‐needed baseline data on speech and language pathology management of speech and swallowing disorders associated with childhood ABI. Key objectives were to: (i) determine whether clinicians use formalized referral criteria, clinical guidelines, protocols or care pathways; and (ii) to document the specific assessment and treatment approaches used.

Methods  Speech and language pathology managers and clinicians at 31 major paediatric rehabilitation centres across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Ireland were invited to participate in an online survey.

Results  Fifty‐one speech and language pathologists responded representing 26 centres (84% response rate). Routine referrals of ABI patients to speech and language pathology occurred relatively infrequently in these centres (12%). Centres utilized assessment protocols (23%) and guidelines (35%) more frequently than treatment guidelines (8%). Multidisciplinary care pathways were applied by 31%. Most centres used adult‐based motor speech assessments and informal (‘in‐house developed’) swallowing assessment tools.

Conclusions  The limited use of referral criteria, protocols, care pathways and guidelines invites the possibility of unequal care, and less than optimal outcomes. Reliance on adult‐based or in‐house assessments is inappropriate, yet frequently a necessity due to an absence of paediatric‐specific tools in this field. Further research is required in parallel with the formation of consensus groups to support the development of: (i) paediatric‐specific assessment tools and management approaches; and (ii) clinical protocols and guidelines.

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