Going the Extra Mile for Patients: How the C2 Wellness team Supports their Sleep CommunityToday, we’re highlighting the work two sleep management operators are doing to improve the sleep patient experience in the heart of tornado alley. Meet the men behind C2 Wellness (and the Oklahoma Sleep Institute): John Donaghue, COO & CFO, and Mike Gold, CEO. Gold and Donaghue have served the greater Oklahoma City sleep community for just under 14 years, offering an end-to-end, comprehensive solution for integrated health systems, hospitals and physician practices. The goal of C2 Wellness is to improve outcomes for patients suffering from sleep disorders by providing an enhanced customer experience. Like other sleep management operations, C2 Wellness delivers screening, diagnostic and treatment services for home sleep testing (HSTs), in-lab sleep testing management, CPAP set-up, and product supply lines. Ultimately, their team strives for the betterment of their patients, every single day (and every single night). According to Gold, there are too many disparate parts in the healthcare system and too many administrative barriers for patients to gain appropriate care. As a team, C2 Wellness has been able to knock down a number of those barriers to improve the quality of care for their patients. That starts on the first day patients are referred to their services and throughout the entirety of the patient care pathway. “For the past 14 years, we’ve committed to partnering with integrated health networks. That’s our core competency. It’s right in our wheelhouse,” said Gold. “We are a community resource as a specialty sleep clinic. We pull patients from across the community to strengthen the sleep programs for our strategically aligned hospital partner.”
Addressing Gaps in the Healthcare SystemOur healthcare system has holes and complications. Early in their journey, the C2 Wellness team recognized the gaps in the system. They decided to provide better management services for major systems, addressing the lack of fine-detail management in hospital outpatient ancillary service departments. The glaring need they identified: providing better care and value to patients in those under-managed situations. Patients were being left in the dark to figure out answers to difficult questions involving billing, scheduling, and insurance claims. Pre-authorizations especially tended to keep the C2 Wellness team up at night: how do you address sleep disorders when insurance doesn’t cover the costs? Donaghue mentioned that people without insurance coverage for specific sleep services are also far less likely to maintain compliance with sleep disorder treatment options. In his mind, one big hurdle is helping patients understand how important sleep is for their overall health.
“We need the general population to understand the huge impact that sleep disorders and obstructive sleep apnea have on your overall health. This has to be a continued message that we can’t give up on,” said Donaghue.The thing is: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) doesn’t care about your insurance policy. OSA is one of the major issues facing the country as a whole, and it’s top of mind for Donaghue and Gold.
The Biggest Threat: Obstructive Sleep ApneaIn an industry where 80-85% of people suffering from a sleep disorder are undiagnosed, proper communication and education are pivotal. Many who suffer from OSA are unaware of what the disorder is, let alone that they even have it. Both Donaghue and Gold advocate for better education on the growing OSA epidemic, mentioning two key avenues. For Donaghue, the main component is educating providers, administrators, and executives in the healthcare system who aren’t as focused on sleep and its importance and connection to overall health. The C2 Wellness team works directly with a number of physicians in systems big and small, and for over a decade, education has been a multi-disciplinary approach. “From the very beginning, we felt that sleep as an industry was very underserved and was failing to identify under-diagnosed patients,” said Donaghue. “So our focus was on educating cardiology groups, primary care, and specialty physicians to better screen patients for OSA.” On the flip side of the coin, Gold highlights the patient side of the story: “The biggest thing that needs to occur in our industry is a continued awareness of the number of people in the United States that remain undiagnosed. As small providers, we don’t have the budget and time to spread that message to the masses. It’s an expensive, national message that needs to be prioritized,” said Gold. Two sides to the coin – each needs to be addressed. So, how do we get there?
How C2 Wellness is Addressing OSAWhile not all OSA cases are caused by obesity, weight-management options can help a percentage of those with OSA. One unique initiative the C2 Wellness team is working on now is related to weight-management for their patients. In an effort to combat the connection between OSA and obesity, the C2 Wellness team has partnered with a health-focused company to provide additional services for their shared patients. But this plan is only one piece of the puzzle. As Donaghue mentioned, insurance (or the lack thereof), often plays a key role in both initial treatment being started and long term compliance with CPAP treatments when weight-management alone can not do the trick. “If you have sleep disorders, and you don’t take care of them, you could end up with a stroke. If you don’t die, you end up being an extremely costly patient to take care of, so it makes sense for the preventative costs of sleep studies to be included in insurance plans,” said Gold.
High Touch Patient ExperienceWhen patients do get into the system and the C2 Wellness team starts working with them, they can breathe a little easier, (literally and figuratively). This all starts with a high-touch, concierge patient experience. This personalized approach provides higher patient satisfaction and helps improve CPAP compliance. Because the C2 Wellness team works directly with patients from day one, cautious patients build trust over time, which in turn helps with CPAP usage rates. Patients are more willing to listen to you once you’ve gained their trust, and understand that you have their health and well-being front-of-mind. Not only does the C2 Wellness team build trust with their customers, but they do it with some of the market’s top talent. “As I said, it’s the high-touch, comprehensive approach that sets us apart. It may sound like a trite answer, but in each community we work in, you will find best in class providers related to sleep care under one umbrella,” said Gold. Donaghue echoed that sentiment, highlighting the focus C2 Wellness puts on the needs and priorities of each person involved in the high-touch experience. “Our team, from top to bottom, focuses on our patients’ needs,” said Donaghue.
The Sleep Advocate Program Enhances the Patient ExperienceReestablishing their focus on external needs led the C2 Wellness team to develop a new program, one that matches patients with a sponsor on the C2 Wellness team. According to Gold, the team implemented the sleep advocate program a few years back, with tweaks and updates over the past years, as well. Their sleep advocate program connects patients on day one with an internal sponsor. The sponsor helps with getting the patient’s benefits cleared, scheduling the services they will receive, explaining the costs of their services and answering questions about what to expect. Basically, anything a patient needs, the sleep advocate provides. “We are a customer-focused organization that holds the patient’s hand throughout the process. We believe patient retention and patient compliance begins the moment you meet them,” said Gold, keying in on this high-touch approach as the reason for their success.
COVID Felt Across the CountryAs was the case in the previous two sleep stories, COVID remains a challenge in 2020. Across the country, sleep operations were forced to close doors temporarily at the onset and in-lab volumes are still being impacted by social distancing restrictions. In general, 2020 has been an uphill climb. “It was very hard for us, as you can imagine,” said Gold. “You can’t make up for economic shortages due to a pandemic, especially for in-lab sleep studies.” For C2 Wellness, the specific restrictions imposed by the State of Oklahoma at the beginning of the pandemic related to hospital-based outpatient services forced the team to go dark for several months. To combat the challenges of COVID-19, the team greatly expanded their telehealth services. The team also worked to ramp up HSTs in the wake of in-lab closures. The third big focus was ramping up their AI scoring usage to speed up turnaround times and reduce costs. “We’ve evolved with the pandemic. We believe we’re coming out of the pandemic as a stronger organization. We also believe that our new alliance with EnsoData, and the significant toolset that EnsoSleep provides our frontline staff puts us in a position to pull additional value levers for the benefit of our various hospital and health system partners,” said Gold. “Thanks to our relationship with EnsoData and thanks to our partnership with our HST manufacturing partner, Itamar Medical, we are the clinical sleep operations arm of our health system partners and we’ve put together a best-in-class model. All to the benefit of the patient.”
The Impact a Sleep Center Makes Stems from the ProcessFrom the impact on patients to a life-changing unforeseen happenstance, the process drives success (and can save lives). A unique thing about the Oklahoma Sleep Center is the mandatory test for new hires. Each hire takes a sleep test. According to Gold, “When someone goes to work for our organization, we have them take a sleep study, for the sole purpose of understanding what our patients go through when they access our services. This allows everyone in our organization to accurately describe what we do to prospective patients.” The concept has been extremely valuable for patients who work with the C2 Wellness team, but it was also life-changing for one incoming employee. As Gold describes it, the young woman received some very staggering news when her sleep study was returned. Despite being in good shape and fine health, the young woman was diagnosed with a severe case of obstructive sleep apnea. Having gone unnoticed and untreated, this may have led to premature stroke and death for this young, healthy woman. She came into Gold’s office one afternoon in tears; these weren’t tears of sadness, but tears of thankful joy. At the end of the day, this heartwarming story is just a byproduct of an impeccable process, a process that thinks about the needs of patients and understands that if someone’s been through it, they’re far better at explaining it. The process is for the patient, and that’s always what Gold and Donaghue have in mind when making a decision, big or small.
“If you remain focused on the patient experience, all things fall in line. Your opportunities are a result of doing what you can to stay focused on patients,” Gold concluded.