Climbing the ladder, challenging the rules, and molding the young minds of sleep medicine drives the sleep mentor featured in our March sleep story
In this month’s sleep story, we dive into the life of an extremely business focused, data driven sleep professional. She loves numbers, and is driven to prove her hypotheses with action and data, rather than talk. An industry veteran of three decades, she rose from night tech to the VP of clinical operations overseeing multiple sleep labs. She preaches change management and embraces new technologies when they make sound financial sense and can help her team streamline the process to improve patient care.
She’s become an advocate for AI in recent years. She believes it will increase patient access and improve the way patient care is delivered. Let’s dive into this month’s story on Laura Linley, Advanced Sleep Management’s (ASM) co-founder and VP of clinical operations.
How Linley Found Sleep Medicine
Linley fell into sleep quite accidentally. Her life changing moment came as a young respiratory therapist. In her youth, Linley thrived on high-action, high-stress, adrenaline-fueled work. However, like many in healthcare, Linley’s breaking point was inevitable. After a straining month – including one week with multiple infant deaths – Linley went to resign from her position.
But as she went to close that door, another was opening up in the newly formed sleep department, where help was desperately needed. And for Linley, it was the perfect career switch. “No pun intended, but it turned out to be a dream job for me,” she said, describing the work she did at the two-bed lab.
“Sleep was very new, and we were able to make a big difference. I was still able to help people, and patients really liked you. They’d come back after seeing you and say, ‘you changed my life.’ And when you have experiences like that and you can see the impact you’re having on someone’s quality of life, it makes all the weird hours of sleep worth it,” said Linley.
When she first started in sleep, she handled procedural work, patient facing set-up, education, and scoring, and their team worked to establish the practices and principles of the sleep department. She basically laid the foundation for the rest of her career.
Linley Strives to Improve Tech Education
Within the industry, Linley advocates for continuous on the job training for both day scoring technologists and overnight sleep technicians. Comprehensive patient care in sleep requires both critical thinking skills and advanced training and education. Because patients in the lab are sicker than they’ve ever been in years past, she encourages health systems to continually provide education on the new and evolving sleep disorders and the related comorbidities.
“One of the things that has become very apparent, and the pandemic has really brought it to the forefront, is that education for techs on sleep issues is a must because our patients are becoming more critically ill,” said Linley. “We’re not just seeing patients who are 100 pounds overweight and it’s a by-the-book OSA diagnosis. M ost of the typical OSA patients are being identified with home sleep testing. Instead, in the lab we’re seeing more complicated patients.”
It’s clear that techs today have to be able to understand the comorbidities and how they’re associated with their sleep disturbance. In many cases, techs need to understand the relationship between new, advanced therapies and specific comorbidities. Flexing your skillset is equally important for sleep techs, as Linley highlighted the many changes techs had to roll with in 2020.
Citing the pandemic as a lightning rod for the acceleration of industry changes, the ASM team quickly pivoted their sleep business by implementing new standards. ASM’s sleep labs emphasized virtual visits, rapidly expanded their home sleep testing program, and explored ways to become more involved with the care team in the outcome management for patients.
“That’s a silver lining during the pandemic,” said Linley of the HSAT and telehealth acceleration during the past year. “It’s not how I thought we would get what we needed to improve sleep care, but it’s been very effective in pushing the agenda.”
A Sleep Mentor for Young Professionals
Everyone needs at least one person to look up to when getting into their career, and for Linley, she was lucky to have a handful of excellent mentors. She cites their caring, coaching, flexibility, and understanding as reasons why she felt so comfortable in sleep. And in the past decade, she’s worked hard to spread around the same type of wisdom she received.
“Because I had great mentors, I was successful, and that’s what drives me to mentor anyone in sleep who has the same type of passion for patient care,” said Linley. When your focus is on educating and improving the careers of your colleagues and team, you start to accumulate mentees.
Over the years, Linley has supported dozens if not hundreds of techs in one way or another. In a recent EnsoData webinar, two of Linley’s proteges shared insights on the emerging career paths in sleep, our own clinical informaticist, Andrea Ramberg, and Northwestern Medicine’s sleep services and DME manager, Sarah Brennecka.
“I had the pleasure of Laura Linley being my leader for a few years in the sleep lab. She has been a great mentor and has always pushed me to follow my dreams. Laura has such a passion for sleep medicine and it has always been so contagious. I’ve learned a lot from her, and continue to learn from her,” said Sarah Brennecka.
What stands out about Linley is her passion for the sleep industry. She’s one of those leaders who lifts their team and works with them to climb the mountaintop. She believes that everyone in sleep has a shared calling.
“If you talk to any passionate sleep tech, they all have that one story that put their career on a trajectory where they could really say, ‘this is my path,” she said, then adding with a laugh, “The technicians working in sleep are unique. They’re my people. We just get each other.” And when you’re in a conversation with Linley and Ramberg, it’s so easy to see that passion play out.
ASM and the Pineapple
Let’s backtrack a few years to when Linley first discovered EnsoData. She met our CEO, Chris Fernandez, at a sleep conference in Texas in 2018. Enamored by his entrepreneurial spirit, she remembers how passionate Chris was to make an impact in the sleep industry. Reminiscing on that initial conversation, Linley cited the roller coaster of emotions she experienced as she first pondered what AI scoring technology might mean for her future.
“Hearing about EnsoSleep for the first time was really so cool, but at the same time, it was scary,” said Linley. “Oh my gosh, I thought, AI is going to take over, this is my career and I still need to work for 10 more years before I can really retire, so there was some very real anxiety during the conversation. But after talking, the fear shifted to excitement and intrigue. Our discussion really opened up some ideas for my business, specifically about efficiency opportunities that I was struggling with at the time.”
And after discussing these issues with Chris, she believed that EnsoSleep could be the solution to her consistency and efficiency problems. As you recall, she’s a savvy businesswoman, and the bottom line is an important secondary driver after serving her patient population.
2018: The Year of Efficiency
Efficiency and scoring consistency is a challenge for many sleep centers, and ASM is no exception. ASM’s team is made up of six scorers and more than forty interpreting physicians. Over the years, certain physicians began to prefer certain scorers, and for Linley, it was challenging to manage the many opinions and preferences.
“Prior to EnsoSleep, our struggle as a sleep lab was to be able to make sure we had the nuances of reporting that each specific physician wanted. When I tried to expand my scoring team, problems with inconsistencies cropped up. It was a bit of a lose-lose,” said Linley with exasperation.
“For me, the big reason to explore EnsoData was that I could use fewer scoring techs to support my 40 doctors. The ability to create a core team of scorers allowed us to control the quality of scoring. So for me, 2018 was my year of efficiency as I call it, and EnsoData was a big part of that win.”
Linley was able to repurpose one of her scorers into a new role, helping patients navigate the sleep journey. To learn more about sleep navigators, check out our other piece now: “Why Sleep.Centers Need a Sleep Navigator.”
To close out this sleep story, we wanted to let Linley share a few words of wisdom for all the young technologists and night techs just getting started in sleep.
“Always be willing to flex your skillset. The job description for an RPSGT or even a night tech is long. There’s a lot to do. There’s so much more critical thinking required for techs today,” said Linley. “Don’t be afraid to use your critical thinking skills and your gut instinct when you’re considering how to best manage your patients.”
At the end of the day, techs are meeting with and educating patients, reviewing studies, and providing reports for the physicians are the ones who are setting patients up for success.
Want to read more sleep stories? Dive into a few of our other recent articles: