Speech-language pathology guidance for tracheostomy during the COVID-19 pandemic: an international multidisciplinary perspective
As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, there has been growing recognition of risks to frontline health care workers. When caring for patients with tracheostomy, speech-language pathologists have significant exposure to mucosal surfaces, secretions, and aerosols that may harbor the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This tutorial provides guidance on practices for safely performing patient evaluation and procedures, thereby reducing risk of infection.
Data were collated through review of literature, guidelines, and consensus statements relating to COVID-19 and similar high-consequent infections, with a focus on mitigating risk of transmission to health care workers. Particular emphasis was placed on speech-language pathologists, nurses, and other allied health professionals. A multinational interdisciplinary team then analyzed findings, arriving at recommendations through consensus via electronic communications and video conference.
Reports of transmission of infection to health care workers in the current COVID-19 pandemic and previous outbreaks substantiate the need for safe practices. Many procedures routinely performed by speech-language pathologists have a significant risk of infection due to aerosol generation. COVID-19 testing can inform level of protective equipment, and meticulous hygiene can stem spread of nosocomial infection. Modifications to standard clinical practice in tracheostomy are often required. Personal protective equipment, including either powered air-purifying respirator or N95 mask, gloves, goggles, and gown, are needed when performing aerosol-generating procedures in patients with known or suspected COVID-19 infection.
Speech-language pathologists are often called on to assist in the care of patients with tracheostomy and known or suspected COVID-19 infection. Appropriate care of these patients is predicated on maintaining the health and safety of the health care team. Careful adherence to best practices can significantly reduce risk of infectious transmission.