Hard to Swallow: A Review of Interventions to Improve Swallowing Solid Medication

Caryn J. VandenBerg, Alyssa Adams, Robyn Bockrath, Sang Hee Kim, Giselle Rodriguez, Andrea Fawcett, Ravi Jhaveri*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Solid oral medications are preferred over intravenous or liquid formulations; however, difficulty swallowing solid medication remains a common barrier to adherence. Previous reviews have demonstrated limited evidence on interventions to improve solid medication swallowing abilities. PubMed, Medline (OVID), CINAHL, Scopus, and Web of Science databases were searched for interventions to improve the pediatric population’s ability to swallow solid medications. We included studies in English published after the latest review, from January 2014 through April 2022, with pediatric patients not having comorbid conditions affecting swallowing ability. The authors independently reviewed each study’s sampling strategy, study design, and the strength of outcome measures and assigned a numerical rating representing “poor,” “fair,” or “good” for each category. Individual ratings were averaged per category and a final quality rating score given based on the average of all 3 categories. Our search identified 581 unique records; 10 were included in the final review. Interventions varied and included behavioral therapies and novel products or medication formulations. Three received a “good” quality rating, 5 were “fair,” and 2 were “poor.” All studies showed their intervention(s) to be successful in improving a child’s ability to swallow solid oral medications. Despite the availability of several different effective interventions, pediatric providers do not routinely address patients’ difficulty with swallowing solid oral medications. Patients would benefit from implementation of a universal screening process followed by a guideline for appropriate patient-centered interventions; the opportunity exists to use this process as a national quality benchmark reflecting institutional commitment to high-value care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E123-E132
JournalHospital Pediatrics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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