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Blog Feature

By: AAST Editor on August 29th, 2019

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The Economic and Social Costs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can severely affect your sleep and your health, but do you know the toll it can take on society?

Dr. Teofilo Lee-Chiong, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health, wants more people to understand just how great of an impact OSA can have beyond what it can do to one’s body. In his keynote session “The Economic and Social Costs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea” at the 2019 AAST Annual Meeting, he hopes to highlight the ways poor sleep health can affect other parts of life and ways that those working in sleep medicine can address it.

“When you see a person at a clinic, you are truly concerned about the health of the person—the focus is to get the person better,” he said. “But one has to realize that it has a ripple effect because this patient has a family and this patient lives in a community and everyone is affected by them and their illness.”

OSA is a very complicated type of disease, Lee-Chiong said. Most obviously, it affects sleep. When someone is tired, their waking hours are affected. So whatever someone is involved in—whether it’s a relationship, a job, or school—they can’t perform at their best. But more concerning is the fact that OSA has many comorbidities like hypertension, depression and heart issues.

All of these things contribute to several different affecting factors. If someone’s OSA goes undiagnosed, their health issues can continue to flourish, increasing their medical bills. If someone’s tired because of their sleep issues, they might underperform at work or crash their car.

“Think about the cost of sleep apnea with one single accident,” Lee-Chiong said. “An accident can kill. And if you multiply all the people on the road today and the fact that there are more drivers with sleep apnea than intoxicated drivers, it’s concerning. Sleepiness can hurt your performance at any time – you cannot predict when it’s going to occur.”

So what are sleep technologists and sleep specialists to do? Lee-Chiong said it’s important for those working directly with patients to help them understand the greater impact their diagnosis has. He said this could encourage more people to adhere to their treatment regimen. In addition, those working in sleep medicine need to start looking at value-based care rather than just looking at outcomes, and embrace personalization when it comes to treatment.

Also, the industry as a whole needs to start looking at ways they can align themselves with other specialties—like cardiology—to get to patients who might have undiagnosed OSA that is affecting other parts of their health.

“Today, despite all our efforts, 80% of patients with sleep apnea remain undiagnosed and 40% who are treated are not adhering to therapy,” he said. “That’s the next challenge for the field. We need to think about what sleep technologists and sleep specialists can do to help.”

Dr. Lee-Chiong said the sleep field is a unique specialty in medicine, and he’s excited about what the future might bring. Working with patients on improving their sleep apnea won’t just give them a better night’s sleep, it will give them a better quality of life overall.

“I would like everyone to believe that the work we do is meaningful because every patient that you treat is in one way affecting the broader society, and every patient you get on CPAP is not just conquering the apnea, it’s making this person better,” he said. “And I think that should be the message every time we see a patient. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about what we can do to really make a better life for this patient.”

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