2021 Sleep Trends: Telehealth, Disposable HSATs top the list

Four (plus one) sleep trends for 2021: see how one HSAT-focused sleep practice is championing them all.

Welcome back to our sleep story series, as we continue to highlight people in different roles in the sleep medicine community. This month, we’re excited to feature Dr. Vikas Jain, MD, who owns and operates Dream Sleep Medicine, a sleep medicine practice based in north Texas. Dream Sleep Medicine is 100 percent focused on sleep medicine and 21st century solutions. The team is always on top of current sleep trends, adopting disposable HSATs (home sleep apnea tests) in the early days of the pandemic to minimize the detrimental impacts felt across the country. His team also provides sleep medicine resources and education to his local community, and his team assists with reviewing HSATs in over 35 states in the U.S., so his reach is expansive. 

The key is identifying the correct treatment options for each person in his patient population. “I treat the full spectrum of sleep disorders,” said Dr. Jain. “We emphasize the importance of sleep disorder management rather than just diagnosis. That means we are interested in if you remain compliant with your PAP therapy, your narcolepsy is controlled, or that your insomnia is improving.”

Dr. Jain’s commitment to his patients is inspiring. He’s making it happen with an equal commitment to leveraging the best technology available in sleep medicine, from new disposable HSAT devices to shifting operations to revolve around telemedicine offerings. His organization is the epitome of a trend-setting group, so let’s dive in to see what sleep trends are being adapted at Dream Sleep Medicine. 

1. Data and technology are driving decision making

All over the world, the data revolution is driving change and innovation. Industry leaders in all sectors are looking for ways to optimize and improve their workflows. From telemedicine to leveraging analytics to drive better CPAP adherence results, data is important for a sleep center to run efficiently. Per Dr. Jain, his team is leveraging technology in as many areas that they can. 

“We utilize technology efficiently,” said Dr. Jain. “Appointments are handled digitally. We have leveraged API’s to build our own interfaces. We embrace the HSAT and we’re utilizing telemedicine. For our average patient, our primary focus is to streamline the process with an HST and auto-PAP.” Dr. Jain’s use of technology is especially important in the times of COVID-19, as this is a strategy for success and safety alike. On top of the logistical simplifications within your sleep center, technology is positively impacting Dr. Jain’s patients beyond the pandemic protection. 

“With telemedicine and HSATs, we can strip out and pull information digitally so patients never have to leave their home. Data and technology are only useful if you apply them in a meaningful way,” added Dr. Jain. “If you just assume technology will know what to do, it doesn’t work like that. We see that with AutoPAP. Patients might not do well with the auto-setting of 4 to 20 on an auto-CPAP.” 

Dr. Jain highlights the process of working with patients to review data and optimize where things are going to be most helpful for each individual. In other words, technology is aiding his team in numerous areas, but it’s the team’s expertise that patients really appreciate most. And as the concepts of patient and consumer are intersecting more than ever, having the best patient experience is crucial to continued success. 

2. Individuals are more concerned than ever about their sleep health

More and more individuals are concerned with their personal health. Consumers are purchasing wearable technologies to monitor their health in droves. Peloton, MIRROR, Beach Body and other at home workouts are seeing economic growth despite the pandemic. Apps are tracking your calorie counts and as of very recently Apple watches are tracking your sleep with more accuracy and capabilities than previous versions. This conflux of personal health options is driving sleep health to the top of mind for consumers, and with it, more sleep tests are being taken. 

“The rise in wearables in sleep is triggering individuals to consider the possibility they need to be evaluated for a sleep issue,” noted Dr. Jain. “When you add that patients can meet virtually and HSAT devices can be shipped out for initial screening, the whole process is streamlined for the patient.” It’s easy to see how a consumer/patient would be willing to finally take that sleep test their significant other was pressuring them to take. That’s where the rise of HSATs and telemedicine is so important to addressing the massive amounts of undiagnosed sleep disorders in the U.S. 

“I think consumers are going to start taking advantage of HSATs because of telemedicine. With the push of a button, patients can now schedule the visit, the initial testing and treatment, and can be managed via telehealth,” said Dr. Jain. “Patients using telehealth have realized the benefits firsthand when they might have been hesitant to try it prior to COVID-19.” 

3. HSATs, especially disposables, will garner more market share in 2021 

The decision to work with HSATs is one many new and experienced sleep centers are choosing, as technology advances and the COVID-19 pandemic limits in-person testing opportunities and safety. Compared to in-clinic testing, HSATs are basically built to withstand the pandemic’s repercussions, especially as disposable devices become increasingly available. Dream Sleep Medicine functions 100 percent in HSATs, so when COVID-19 hit, there was a natural transition to disposable devices.  

“Up until very recently, we didn’t have a wide variety of disposable devices to choose from,” began Dr. Jain, positing: “Disposables are a step up over the traditional reusable devices during COVID-19. With traditional HSAT devices you still have the issue of sending out the device, getting it back, and sanitizing them.Reusable HSAT are useful as they still allowed for testing considering that many sleep labs were essentially shut down during the initial spike of COVID-19. With the rise of disposable HSAT devices we have been able to improve our logistics which have helped to keep home sleep testing volumes steady, with less of a slow down.” 

Disposable HSATs are great for both the Dream Sleep Medicine team and the patients they serve. HSATs can lower the fear associated with sleep medicine by offering people something other than a night at a sleep lab, ultimately lowering the barrier to entry for patients and increasing the number of patients that we can manage and care for within the sleep community. And as both consumers’ needs and the tools to reach those consumers grow in coming years, the next question is whether there are enough sleep professionals to handle the load. 

4. There is a serious dearth of young, qualified RPSGTs 

The sleep medicine industry is a fairly niche, tight-knit community, with the common goal of addressing sleep disorders. Some sleep professionals come into the field with a specific malady to focus on, but for most general practitioners, no sleep disorder is as large as the obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) epidemic. This is echoed by Dr. Jain, “We need more people interested in the management of sleep disorders.”  

As many of you know, 80% of the OSA population doesn’t even know they have it, as they’ve never been diagnosed or treated. We also know there’s roughly one board certified sleep doctor for every 45,000 U.S. citizens, so there’s no doubt that we need to increase access options for those individuals. 

While there are many young sleep professionals, especially in our urban hubs, the numbers show that there is a serious dearth of qualified sleep professionals in the vast majority of rural America. For communities with a dearth of RPSGTs, relying on the power of AI sleep scoring might be another solution.

Bonus: Sleep medicine has adopted telehealth and disposable HSATs, will it adopt AI Sleep Scoring next?

For a lot of reasons, telehealth really lends itself well to the field of sleep medicine. In sleep medicine, we make a lot of our decisions based on data and clinical history, rather than feeling someone’s joints or examining someone’s ears. In fact, the actual physical contact required in sleep medicine is minimal, and almost unneeded for HSATs and initial diagnosis. The PSG test is still the primary test for diagnosing more comorbid patients, as it provides significantly more data than the home tests, but HSATs are a very viable first step as consumers start to flood the market. 

As more money is funneled into Sleep Medicine – like this €15M Euro Grant – we’re going to continue to get better and better technology, both from a diagnostic standpoint and a treatment standpoint. To best leverage these new tools, the focus must be on utilizing technology to deliver care in the best way possible. For small sleep centers and health systems alike, combining HSATs, telehealth, and AI sleep scoring may help optimize the process for the patient and maximize the time spent on education and treatment. But, that requires the field of sleep medicine to buy into AI scoring as a whole. Dr. Jain appears to be bought in, comparing AI scoring to the fear people had with PSG studies, highlighting that both have the ability to increase the care we can provide sleep patients. 

“Instead of being fearful of technology, like HSATs, I think it’s about embracing what new tech has to offer to let us continue to do our jobs the best we can,” said Dr. Jain. “You could say the same thing about EnsoData… people hear AI and all they think is: ‘it’s trying to replace me.’ But what they don’t realize is that when we analyze PSG and HSAT data, artificial intelligence and machine learning can help us identify potential risks by reading metrics we may not have even known existed. It’s going to help us better triage and improve care. And like HSATs, I think the more we adopt these technologies, the better we’ll be able to manage our patients.”

A lot of clinics felt the same about HSATs, commenting that fellow industry acquaintances were worried HSATs might negatively affect sleep medicine. The same concerns are there about AI, but for over 400 clinics in the U.S., AI sleep scoring has helped increase patient volume without increasing turnaround times for patients. At the end of the day, it’s all about convenience. Easier for the patient, easier for the physician, and increasing access for all. That’s a win-win-win. 

What other sleep trends do you see coming in 2021? 

For Dr. Jain, the first four trends are a blueprint for navigating the unknown road ahead in 2021. Put your sleep center in the best possible place to succeed. If the COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit in-person testing, Dr. Jain’s model is likely built strong enough to withstand potential prolonged shutdowns. We encourage you to consider adopting more HSATs, both disposable and drop-ship. Continue improving your telehealth offerings. And if you’re looking to be on the frontline of the AI scoring trend, let us know. 

We also want to hear what other sleep trends you see coming in 2021. If you add a sleep trend in the form below, we’ll be sharing them out on Twitter to see what the sleep community thinks, as well, so give us a follow and stay tuned. 

And to Dr. Jain, thank you for sharing your sleep story with our team – we are honored to help spread your message.

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