Categorized | Sleep Apnea

Sleep Doctors and Sleep Labs – Hard Times Ahead


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The news is not out yet, but the signs that the medical world in the United States are changing are become more and more clear each day that passes by.  What is pretty interesting to observe is how the physicians are all trying to change course to adjust to potential change from the government forces that are getting tighter and tighter.  The once bustling business of becoming a sleep doctor, and having your board certification from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine is caught up in this uncertain time just like the rest of the other specialists out there as well.

When meeting with several sleep doctors over the past few weeks, it was very interesting to see and feel the amount of frustration that this particular group of doctors is living through.  What seems to be the biggest concern across the board was the worry that local sleep labs are going to be the thing of the past in just a couple more years.  That’s right, those places that many people have to spend an entire night at, “sleep labs” may be no more once and for all.  There are a whole bunch of reasons for these types of potential changes, and specifically, it appears that technology has caught up and passed these old school sleep labs, and pretty much left them in the dust.

If you have ever had the chance to visit a sleep lab, the chances are you were not the happiest person to be put up for the night in the environment that existed.  Most sleep labs are described as cold, dark, and awfully uncomfortable places.  After speaking with over 15 sleep lab patients who recently had a sleep apnea study, every single patient told me they would never go back to the awful environment in the future.  Some of the patients complained that they were constantly being woken up by the staff of the sleep lab, others complained that they had to wear all sorts of polysomnography equipment throughout the night, and couldn’t fall asleep at all.  The complaints were numerous, and as unfortunate as it is, the worst part is that nearly every single one of these patients did not need to go to their sleep lab in the first place.  Sounds crazy right?  Unfortunately it is the truth.

Why Do we No Longer Need Sleep Labs?

To fully understand why the sleep lab enviornment is becoming extinct, you have to begin to look at sleep medicine like a business.  (After all, nearly every single sleep lab medical facility is owned by a sleep doctor, or group of sleep doctorsor pulmonologist, or sometimes even neurologists for that matter.)

If you can wrap your head around the idea of a doctor owning a sleep lab, then you will be able to understand why most of the country’s sleep labs will soon be out of business.  First, with very minimal investigations, you can be 100% certain the the overwhelming majority of sleep labs diagnose and test for one thing:  obstructive sleep apnea.  That’s right, the world’s most common sleeping disorder.  This is so common that many sleep labs report over 95% of patients are referred to a sleep doctor for this one specific reason.  Sleep apnea is so common, that it virtually overtakes the entire world of sleep medicine, and the forecasters predict that sleep apnea will only continue to grow across the population as time moves forward.

As horrible as sleep apnea can be, and as painful as it might be to family members of a sleep apnea patient, there is some good news.  The good news has to do with technology.  When sleep apnea was first discovered, diagnosed and treated many years ago, Dr. William Dement invented a polysomnography device to test for sleep apnea.  This diagnostic test, became known as a “sleep study” and was tested in a place called a “sleep lab”.  Well, that was 1971.  ALOT has changed since then, and that’s the good news.

For years and years, millions of patients around the world were required to attend an overnight PSG test to check for sleep apnea.  And whether the patient liked it or not, the test had to be performed in a bed at either the hospital or a private sleep lab facility.  The test has always been a very expensive diagnostic test, sleep studies are also very time consuming, and the most unfortunate part is that they often fail.  By fail, that means that a valid amount of sleep time was not recorded, so the patient either fails the study or must re-take the exact same sleep study once again.  When you sit back and look at it, it’s no wonder why patients absolutely dread visiting sleep labs.

But like everything else, times are changing and sleep labs better be prepared.  Technology has taken over, and this is a 100% FOR SURE win for both patients, families, and especially the bank account.  Technology has allowed for patients who are being tested for sleep apnea to complete a full nights sleep study in the comfort of the patient’s home.  Pretty amazing!  Actually, it’s a no-brainer.

There are several different companies who have spent millions of dollars developing diagnostic testing equipment which will allow for every patient to receive a fully valid, very inexpensive, and much more comfortable sleep study from home.  It is that simple.

To give you an idea of what a HUGE SAVINGS this will have, look no farther than your local sleep lab.  The average price for a sleep study at a local sleep lab can run anywhere from $1600 to well over $5000.  As incredible as that sounds, there are actually some sleep labs who have charged their patients well over those amounts.  But the good news is that sleep studies which are used to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea can be performed in the comfort of the home for as little as $250 per sleep study.  That is virtually free compared to the hundreds and thousands of dollars that have been charged by local sleep lab doctors for so many years.

In this modern world where we rely on technology so much, advances in sleep medicine technology are leading the way, and will eventually save everyone thousands and thousands of dollars.

Of course if you are a sleep doctor, this might not be the best news for you, considering how much of your paycheck comes from the bills you mail out for the in-lab overnight sleep studies.  But that is just life, things will continue to move forward, doctors will adjust, and hopefully nobody will lose any sleep over this.

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