How Awaken2Sleep Supports Dental Practices with Home Sleep Apnea Testing (HSAT) and Sleep Study Interpretation
Our sleep story candidate this month is just shy of two decades in different sleep medicine roles. He’s a self-starter, a motivator, an optimizer, and a wonderfully charming interviewee. His goal is continuous improvement, both personally and professionally, and that desire led him to find us a few months ago as he aimed to optimize an already efficient dental sleep medicine workflow. Meet Michael Cowen, the relentless CEO of Awaken2Sleep.
Paving the Way for Dental Sleep Medicine
The ability to succinctly describe your work can go a long way toward establishing meaningful relationships. That’s why it is easiest to let Cowen handle the Awaken2Sleep pitch, “We teach dentists how to treat sleep apnea. That’s the very simple version,” said Cowen with a genuine smile, adding:
“Slightly longer, we want to work with growth minded dental practices that want to level up their sleep program.”
The Awaken2Sleep team provides dental sleep medicine coaching and training services, as well as home sleep apnea testing (HSAT) support. Cowen explains that dentists can treat patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea by delivering an oral appliance instead of CPAP, when recommended by a physician.
These customizable mouthpieces are unique for each patient, and treat OSA by holding the jaw in place to keep their airway clear and unobstructed. When Cowen mentions this alternative to CPAP, he emphasized how excitedly people responded. “People often gush: ‘Oh my gosh, do you have a card?’ because they often know someone who definitely doesn’t want to wear a mask,” he said.
The problem he often points out is that there just aren’t enough dentists with sleep programs, even if they seem very common. People are still falling through the cracks and aren’t being diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Awaken2Sleep’s Home Sleep Apnea Testing Operation
Cowen’s team provides a holistic HSAT operation for dental practices. Their unique ability to support dentists who want to own and operate their own HSATs while also supporting practices who prefer a 3rd party shipping model, sets Awaken2Sleep apart.
The process for the 3rd party shipping model includes both the direct shipment of the device and the interpretation of the completed sleep study. Dental practices simply refer patients out by completing an online form on Awaken2Sleep’s website. Patients will receive their home testing unit, take their test, and have that test returned with an interpretation all in rapid succession, often within 1-2 weeks.
Cowen’s model is designed this way because he was a sleep technologist at a leading hospital-based pediatric sleep center years ago, and he understands that bed utilization rates and testing gaps leave far too much of the population undiagnosed and untreated. He saw the need for more accessible home testing options, so he started his own direct shipping company for HSATs around seven years ago.
In recent years, many dental practices have begun to distribute home sleep apnea tests, but in order to obtain a diagnosis, dental practices need an appropriate interpreting physician. Adding a physician to your staff can be cost prohibitive and that’s where Cowen’s team fits into the picture. His basic shipping operation quickly evolved, as Awaken2Sleep emphasized supporting dentists with more than just direct shipping of HSATs.
In addition to selling and supporting HSATs to the dental practices, his team brought in a panel of experts for oversight on those tests. Patients who were screened as likely candidates during a routine dental appointment could take an HSAT home the same day and return it to the practice the following day. From there, practices simply upload the raw data to Cowen’s team via Awaken2Sleep’s HIPAA-compliant portal, where one of Cowen’s board-certified sleep physicians interprets the study.
Cowen’s team includes licensed sleep physicians across all 50 states, and more than 200 dental practices work with the Awaken2Sleep team around the country. On average, turnaround times are between 24-72 hours, so patients will often have results back within a week of their original dental appointment. That’s the type of urgency Awaken2Sleep’s workflow inspires.
Awaken2Sleep’s Direct Shipping and Interpretations Functionalities
To Cowen, the fact that all studies are returned to a patient within 72 hours is a pretty important factor when it comes to patient outcomes.
“Creating a sense of urgency in patients is one challenge for doctors, but following that up by referring them into a system that kills the sense of urgency is very difficult for all practitioners, including dentists,” he lamented, adding that patients who wait months for their test and never receive it wonder: “if I’m not dead from this already, what’s the big deal?”
Cowen’s goal is to provide dental practices with the tools, the insight, and the outside support to better funnel patients with clear signs of OSA into the right pathway quickly, so treatment becomes the priority.
“If practices can talk to a patient that came in today and was screened as high risk, they can get them tested that night, and reappoint them to come back within a week because the results are ready in three days. That’s a pretty simple workflow,” said Cowen, adding:
“We’re not talking months, we’re talking days to weeks, which propels people to say yes, because they really want the help.”
He’s right. People want to sleep better. They want to feel better. They just don’t want to wait months to get tested and treated. Kudos to the Awaken2Sleep team for identifying this need and addressing it with their home testing program.
Dental Sleep Medicine Coaching and Training
According to Cowen, sleep coaching in dental practices is quite common. Dentists are known to hire consultants and coaches to level up different aspects of their practice. As an example, Awaken2Sleep fits into the puzzle as an expert on the dental sleep medicine perspective.
Most practices will retain Cowen’s team to build their custom workflows and train their team on those workflows, the different roles within the system, and how to be efficient with handoffs between the dental practice and the Awaken2Sleep team. For Cowen, the process has an almost musical element.
“They leverage us to create their dental sleep team symphony. Everybody plays a different role and each needs to be played in the right order so everything is in sync,” said Michael Cowen, CEO of Awaken2Sleep.
By functioning in concert with each other, the workflow created by the Awaken2Sleep team helps deter bad habits and create seamless workflows. It’s easier to get patients through the system than it is to avoid the new workflow. That’s the beauty of the sleep coaching solution.
Optimizing the Workflow with AI Scoring from EnsoData
Recently, Cowen and Awaken2Sleep looked for new ways to optimize their business. Research into innovative technologies led him to EnsoData, where he learned how EnsoSleep could help scale and enhance their already efficient workflow. But scalability didn’t sell Cowen: it was accurate results and custom reporting capabilities. “As a sleep tech, accuracy matters. It just does,” he responded when asked about the value of AI Scoring.
“Twenty years ago, it was a coinflip whether an HSAT was going to be accurate or not. It’s incredible the technology that is out there, but why would we not want the most accurate piece of data to put in front of a patient for the right conversation. So, accuracy is the number one reason [we added EnsoSleep],” said Cowen.
The second reason he decided to add EnsoSleep to his operation, and he noted it may be a little surprising, was the “beautiful” reports that are easily updated and customized based on personal/organizational preferences. Per Cowen, these reports create the right environment for Awaken2Sleep to help teach dentists how to explain and in turn coach their patients. He emphasized the graphs, numbers, and diagrams that usually would be lost on patients without the context provided in EnsoSleep reports.
Cowen wanted “small syllable, real laymen English words” to answer all the basic questions patients have regarding their situation. Things like: What is the patient dealing with? Why are they struggling? Why would a patient even care about treatment? And how does this test connect with all the emotional pain points?
Cowen’s focus on providing his customers – dental practices – with the tools they need led him to implement AI Scoring in his workflow and present the beautiful reports he needs to communicate the message that sleep medicine needs dentists!
How Dental Practices can Support Sleep Apnea Patients
Cowen’s next big aim is educating dental practices on the importance of adopting a sleep medicine program. In his conversations with dentists, Cowen simply asks them to consider the growing undiagnosed sleep apnea problem.
“To folks on the dentistry side that haven’t yet stepped into sleep medicine, get in it,” said Cowen. “People need you. There’s too many hurting people that are undiagnosed or untreated that have tried one CPAP mask and failed. They need your help, and that matters, and they’re already sitting in your practice.”
We agree. With more than 80% of the population still undiagnosed, it’s time to fight sleep apnea collaboratively.
Cowen’s not wrong. Let’s go change sleep medicine together.
For dental practices that are interested in learning more about the immense impact a dental sleep medicine program can have on your patient population, we’d encourage you to connect with Awaken2Sleep on LinkedIn, scan the QR code or reach out to their team for a direct meeting, or simply check out the Awaken2Sleep website.