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Blog Feature

By: Kevin Asp on December 23rd, 2015

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Everything you should know about Telemedicine in Sleep Centers

Sleep Technologist Advice

telemedicine in sleep centers

What does telemedicine mean for sleep technologists?

Telemedicine is an emerging tool for sleep medicine practitioners to reach and engage with patients. As it is increasingly becoming recognized as a cost-effective option for sleep disorder management, it's important that technologists understand the potential opportunities in telemedicine practices.

The AASM recently built this telemedicine platform called "Tell A Sleep Doc" that would "increase patient access to high quality healthcare provided by board-certified sleep medicine physicians and accredited sleep centers," according to the AASM. 

These recent developments mirror the increasing demand for telemedicine options among patients, and reminds sleep technologists to refresh their knowledge on Longitudinal Care, which is available as an online course module here.

What is telemedicine and how is it used in sleep centers?

Telemedicine can be defined as the remote provision of healthcare services using electronic information and telecommunications technologies.

According to this study, most adult sleep clinic patients were interested in trying telemedicine due to their lack of access to a sleep specialist, especially if they live in rural areas. 

Kevin Asp, CEO of Somnosure, is one of many sleep technologists whose sleep clinic has been offering sleep telemedicine services to patients.

"In Alaska obviously there are rural areas where patients there don't have the flexibility of having a sleep specialist nearby," he said.

According to survey results, the most commonly reported barriers to in-person physician visits were:

  • Parking cost (44%)
  • Time away from work/school (34%)
  • Cost of gas (26%).
Whereas 89% of respondents indicated using telephone and 55% of respondents indicated using email to communicate with providers, none reported experience with video telemedicine. Despite this lack of experience, over 60% reported feeling comfortable or willing to try it.

Of those who were uncomfortable about video telemedicine, the two main reasons were that in-person visits feel more natural (48%) and that the doctor might need to perform an examination (24%). More than half of respondents reported willingness to pay a copay for a video visit. Video telemedicine represents a feasible option for chronic sleep disorders management.

There are two types of ways a sleep center can utilize telemedicine: asynchronous telemedicine, also known as a "store and forward" approach and in a synchronous manner. 

Asynchronous telemedicine utilizes a method whereby health information is obtained and communicated between visits, at which point discussion of that information may occur.

This aspect of telemedicine is already commonly practiced in many settings; examples include remote transmission of information from specialists (such as radiology) as well as physician to patient use of email or weblogs for conveying information.

On the other hand, synchronous telemedicine involves real time interaction between provider and patient, such as by telephone or video.

Asp's Somnosure facilities have been using this method in several settings to provide patients real-time access to a physician and provide low-level care management to those who live in geographically isolated or local travel challenging areas. 

Benefits of using telemedicine in sleep centers

There are many benefits of offering synchronous telemedicine options to patients. They include:

  • Giving patients improved access to healthcare.
  • Giving patients a reduced waiting time period for appointments.
  • Giving technolgists opportunities to increase adherence rates in sleep disorder treatment management. 
  • According to this study, cost savings associated with telemedicine have been estimated at over $4 billion.

Asp, who has worked in telemedicine for the past 3 years, said synchronous telemedicine treatment options have been great to leverage optimal treatment to remote patients.

Considerations for offering telemedicine in your sleep center

From his experience working in telemedicine, these were the key points Asp said technologists should consider while working with patients in telemedicine:

Clarify what your patient expectations should be

Let your patient know what he or she should expect during the telemedicine treatment option session. Let them know that they won't have face-to-face access to a physician, but rather will be having video teleconference sessions.

In some cases, like in Asp's facility, physicians and technologists have even been able to help patients far away troubleshoot their equipment. 

Asp said he's also looking into implementing a secure cloud-based database service that helps his facility stay compliant while making the telemedicine monitoring process as easy as Skyping someone. 

How does billing and coding work for telemedicine?

In some cases, Medicare does reimburse medical providers for telemedicine visits. It's important that you check with your local insurance plan carriers on their procedures for telemedicine reimbursement. 

Sleep Review magazine published an informative article on legal tips and traps for offering telemedicine in your sleep center.

Want to learn more about how to better manage patient satisfaction and increasing therapy adherance rates? Read our articles on these subjects.

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