Patients’ perspectives on what makes a better care experience while undergoing treatment for oropharyngeal dysphagia secondary to head and neck cancer

Ms Kate Lethbridge1, Ms Jessica Bain1, Mr Martin Checklin1, Ms Lucy Bath1

1Epworth Healthcare, Richmond, Australia


To investigate patients’ perspectives on what makes a better care experience while undergoing rehabilitation for oropharyngeal dysphagia secondary to head and neck cancer.

Thematic analysis was conducted on data obtained from semi-structured interviews. A Symptoms Checklist was also used in order to identify which symptoms were managed well and which symptoms could have been managed better. Data was collected after active rehabilitation had ceased allowing a retrospective report on the patient’s experience.

Eight participants were interviewed who had a range of experiences with different allied health clinicians. Six themes were identified from the data; supportive network is essential (family, friends, workplace), reassurance from staff’s professionalism (empathy, clear communication and holistic care), access to services (timing and communication), using own motivation and resilience, receiving the right information (education and tailored information), shock and adjustment to diagnosis throughout rehabilitation phase (feeling fortunate, concerns regarding recurrence). Weight loss, difficulties swallowing, phlegm in throat and communication issues were the predominate difficulties experienced by over two thirds of participants.

Significance of the findings to allied health:
Allied Health clinicians play a key important role with supporting the person with head and neck cancer. Areas identified include providing relevant, tailored and timely information, offering specialist skills, screening for resilience, being able to detect and follow up on psychological distress, being compassionate and empathetic and providing the patient with a holistic approach.


Lucy graduated from the University of Sydney with a Masters of Speech Pathology with honours in 2011, completing research in acoustic voice characteristics of radio broadcasters in Australia. She has worked across public and private health sectors in New South Wales and Victoria in acute, subacute and rehabilitation settings. Lucy has a particular interest in voice from her training as an actor, working in TV and stage after graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2003.