So this woman (or man) walks in to your office…
If your staff has been nagging you about bringing a mobile fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES) service provider in for a meeting, then this is the place for you! We know you think that Speech Pathologists have been specifically trained to make diet modifications, trial compensatory strategies, and teach evidence-based treatments to their patients, and we absolutely have! But, we do not have x-ray vision. Simply put, we can not see what we can not see. Research has shown a 70% error rate in bedside swallowing exams where recommendations were either too restrictive, leading to dehydration/malnutrition, or silent aspiration leading to pneumonia was missed.
You would never want a physical therapist to tell your grandmother who has a suspected broken hip to get out of that bed and walk without an X-ray, in the same way that Speech Pathologists can not make appropriate recommendations without imaging. We need to see the anatomical and pathophysiological deficits in order to make the appropriate recommendations. Some exercises and strategies such as thickened liquids have been shown to actually cause harm to a patient and potentially a subsequent re-hospitalization, if they are indicated for an unnecessary reason. Once we have obtained baseline imaging, then we can use our clinical judgement to form a treatment plan.
There are 3 scenarios when a SNF will want to refer a patient for a mobile FEES:
Have confidence in your staff…
A FEES can give a real time objective image of the swallow so that the appropriate recommendations for diet and compensatory strategies can be made. The SLP now has an objective measure to educate the nurses, and can discuss with patient and family as to the reasoning behind the recommendations. All is well that ends well.
We don’t want to be locked in to a contract…
What’s it going to cost me?
We also do not bill you if the patient does not participate, although we do have 99.997% success rate with passing the scope (yes that is an actual figure, and no we did not bill the facility for that .001%). There is nothing worse than spending money on transportation and sending a CNA with a patient to the hospital for an MBSS all to find out that he did not want to play nice when he got there. Not only have you wasted money on the ambulance and CNA, he has now missed all of his therapy for the day, missing OT/PT/ST minutes, and subsequently disrupting RUG levels.
We come to you and the Speech Pathologist is able to bill for their treatment minutes while assisting with the mobile FEES procedure. No disruptions in productivity, even if our patient decides he does not want to participate. We have had several patients with dementia or generalized anxiety where they agreed to participate and once it came time for the test, they had a change of heart. No harm, no foul, no invoice, no missed minutes. We rescheduled with the family or a CNA they felt comfortable with, and we were able to obtain the necessary imaging that was drastically different to what was observed at the bedside.
Reduce Re-hospitalizations and other cost savings:
As discussed above, often patients comes from the hospital on a modified diet and/or thickened liquids and as their overall condition approves, a diet upgrade is often necessary, but the diet upgrade doesn’t always occur. Some patients can live at a SNF for several months, and even years before a family member stirs the pot to see if they may be appropriate for an upgrade. The cost of keeping 1 patient, just 1 out of 100s of residents in your facility on thickened liquids for 1 year costs approximately $7,000 in annual operating costs. Just think of how many residents may be living at your facility that have been on thickened liquids for an extended period of time! Also keep in mind, that overall physical condition has no correlation in requiring thickened liquids. The oldest, weakest, and frailest of them all have been known to live out their years happily drinking thin liquids.
So to help you recap: You can spend upwards of $1600 to send your patient to a hospital for an MBSS that can not visualize some of the conditions that are prevalent in the geriatric population, then spend upwards of $35,000+++ for a re-hospitalization, then when they come back from the hospital on thickened liquids, you can tack on $7,000 that year to cover the cost… Or you can spend a couple hundred bucks to have a mobile FEES done at the facility.
A recent study found that SNFs that have access to mobile FEES show a significant increase in instrumental assessments, and subsequently a significant reduction in pneumonia rates in that same group. I’m sure you would love to throw those bragging rights around along with you new found cost savings!