Featured image above: research nurse Alison Thompson diagnosing dysphagia using the AIMplot software with a Motor Neurone Disease patient.
AIMplot Collaborative Software was developed by researchers from Flinders University in South Australia to give clinicians the ability to accurately assess patient swallowing at the bedside.
AIMplot developer Taher Omari says the new program was a standard above contemporary techniques because current methods involved x-rays, which took a long time to process and exposed patients to radiation.
“If you are looking at x-rays you are not actually measuring anything you are just visualising what is happening. What our method is doing is putting some numbers onto that,” he says.
“The analysis simplifies it for clinicians and allows them to get some immediate results that tells them how well someone is swallowing.
“The big advantage is that it doesn’t require radiology, you don’t’ need exposure to x-rays. Our technique can be done at the bedside and you can take the system to the patient and get a measurement done in a ward.”
Clinicians use a highly robust catheter with multiple pressure sensors placed along the length of the tube to measure muscle contractions and pressure flow.
The catheter is introduced via the naval cavity until it reaches the upper oesophagus sphincter and then patients are given a variety of different substances to swallow.
Data is immediately sent to a computer with the AIMplot software installed and the information is translated into a simple analysis.
Clinicians can determine whether the problem is muscular, related to the nervous system or if there are any blockages in the throat.
Dysphagia or difficulty swallowing, is a common symptom for people who deal with neurological conditions such as strokes, motor neuron disease and Parkinson’s Disease.
According to the World Gastroenterology Organisation stroke is the leading causes of dysphagia and are present in up to 67%of patients.
“Normally you need about three or four people to get the assessment. But with our biomechanical method you can do (the procedure) with just one or two,” says Omari.
“You are measuring the swallowing biomechanics as a opposed to just looking at images.”
The new software for diagnosing dysphagia is currently being trialled by three major medical centres: Saint George Hospital in Sydney, University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium and Flinders Medical Centre in South Australia.
Omari says a commercial version could be available internationally within the next six months.
Dr Charles Cocks who is a gastroenterologist at Flinders Medical Centre says dysphagia affects about 60% of nursing home residents worldwide and AIMplot could help accurately differentiate different cases.
“The contemporary methods are open to interpretation whereas this (AIMplot) is a lot more objective,” he says.
“It’s quite simple once you know how to interpret it. It’s also very reproducible. If you take it from here to somewhere else, other people will get the same results.
“Including the x-rays, it (a contemporary method) takes about 45 minutes. With the software we can do the analysis in about 15 minutes. I definitely think this is the way to go – this is the way of the future in terms of ease and accuracy of diagnosis.”
– Caleb Radford