Sunday, 20 May 2012

Texture and consistency - in practice

Wooden bar stools at a wooden bar
A ski bar, Austria, February 2011
I left you in a quandary: we need to supplement the diet of patients on texture-modified diets, but we don't have texture-modified supplements...

So what do we do? Up to now, working on the stroke ward as a newly qualified Dietitian with zero prior experience, I have done what others have shown me and what I can cobble together from resources lying around. For Texture C and Stage 2 fluids we have a 'pudding' consistency supplement and thick yogurts, as well as the puree menu itself and a powder thickener for drinks. For Stage 1 fluids I have been offering a standard concentrated supplement, which may or may not be acceptable but one of the senior Dietitians uses it in the community so that's good enough for me. We also have milkshakes and soups made up from powder that can simply have less liquid added to make them thicker.

The new Dietitian who joined us last week has some previous experience, and has been asking some very interesting questions, mostly along the lines of "...and why do you do it this way?" My somewhat lame answer has been along the lines of "...because that's how I was shown, and I'm only three and a half months old, and I've had your ward and four other wards to cover so limited time to spend thinking about other ways to do it."

So far she has questioned the way that we start new enteral feeds, the way that blood tests are ordered, and now, the range of supplements that we can offer to patients on texture-modified diets. We did a small experiment, mixing two together to try and achieve an intermediate texture, which I promptly poured down my front in a particularly inept tasting session. But that is beside the point - it looks as though some fresh eyes are going to come up with useful tools for the rest of us to adopt. I've already changed the way I start enteral feeds and order blood tests following her suggestions, so I look forward to a Stage 1 thickened fluid supplement option very soon.

Our newest Dietitian is also going to liaise with the SLT team about other aspects of our collaborative working. Exactly how thick should Stage 1 and Stage 2 fluids be? How much fluid should be added to a soup or shake to make it the right consistency? And I'd like her to talk to the SLTs about the 'Texture E' Fork Mashable menu, which is relatively new, and is currently in a different format compared with the other 'special' menu options. The Texture E food is apparently also more expensive to produce, and there are more appetising choices, which means that the kitchen has restricted this menu to patients who have specifically been put on it by a Speech and Language Therapist.

Introducing a new menu within a hospital is no mean feat, mainly because the hospital is a 24/7 full-time operation, but the staff within it obviously don't work 24 hours a day. So you have to roll out any changes multiple times in order to catch those on different shifts or who are on holiday. Done incompletely, there is nothing but confusion, as some ward staff are aware of the change while some are not. And as time goes by, even those who used to know what was going on become unsure of themselves or forget completely what they were shown.

The Texture E menu is an example of this situation. The SLTs who assess patients' swallow have a special sign that they put up over a patient's bed if texture modification is required, and the sign clearly indicates 'Texture E Fork Mashable' among the options. In the medical notes and when talking to nurses, however, they are less consistent, recording for the same patient that 'soft' or 'soft, moist' food is indicated. The nursing staff and Health Care Assistants, who are used to people needing soft options, often offer the same soft meals for these patients as they would for those without good teeth, from the normal menu.

This is the situation I encountered as a new Dietitian on the ward, and to start with, I didn't realise what was going on - I read the notes more often than I look on the wall above the patients, and didn't notice that these 'soft' recommendations actually meant Texture E. Since it became clear (which happened with the help of the more experienced Dietetic Assistant who worked out what was going on) we have been trying to work out how best to make the ward staff aware of the situation and get them to use the correct menu, without having the resources that were available when the new menu was introduced hospital-wide. Our tactic has mostly consisted of keeping an eye out for people being put on the Texture E menu, and providing multiple copies of the menu to the nurses at that point, while making sure that as many people as possible are told about the Texture E menu option, including the patient. Ideally, I'd like to see the SLTs use the same terminology throughout - in the notes, on their notice and when talking to the nursing staff, but it's not up to me.

The last hurdle is on discharge, if someone is still on puree or Texture E food when they go home, especially if they aren't going to a nursing or residential home. The SLTs have a team providing follow-up in the community, but we don't have any Community Dietitians for this sort of follow-up. We rely on providing written information. a telephone follow-up and/or inviting the patient back for an outpatient appointment. If they aren't able to manage any of these, which is going to be those patients in the most difficult circumstances, then all we can do is let the GP know, and hope for the best.

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