Examining how a Texas Sleep Center Supervisor is Addressing the New and Old Challenges in Sleep MedicineFor most people, sleep accounts for about a third of your life, but when you’ve dedicated your professional life to improving the third pillar of health, sleep IS life. That’s the case for our sleep story this month, as we examine the life of John Childers, (Chill-Ders). Like most of the lifelong sleep professionals, Childers can attribute his career in sleep to the immediate draw of changing the lives of patients. His tenure in sleep medicine has included time as a private sleep lab owner, a lab supervisor within a major health system, and even a little time in the spotlight on the local news in Bryan, Texas, where he sought to educate his local community on the importance of proper sleep health.
How did Childers get hooked on Sleep?People afflicted with sleep disorders often don’t understand how much they’re truly suffering. Many have “never” slept well in their lives, and until they’ve had a sleep test, they may not even understand why. This is especially true for those dealing with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) until they finally try a CPAP machine and discover how it positively impacts their quality of life.
“The first patient that I talked to that used the CPAP machine came back and told me, “man, that really changed my life.” And I kept hearing that story over and over again, so that really piqued my interest,” said Childers. “I enjoy the fact that we can take and fix people almost immediately. It’s not a drawn out process, and our patients turn around and start living a better life. Their feeling of immediate relief is why I got into sleep in the first place and why I still work in sleep today.”For Childers, it is clear that the impact he can make on lives on a daily basis is one of the reasons he gets out of bed every day.
Handling Staffing Fluctuations with FlexibilityBeyond helping his patients, Childers’ most pressing concern is maximizing the efficiency and happiness levels of his team. Having worked as a private lab owner for over a decade, Childers is aware of the challenges of fluctuating staff. Let’s dive into how he addresses these concerns to see if you can take anything away for your sleep practice. For many sleep centers, one of the largest challenges is providing timely sleep scoring when staff members are out of the office. Fluctuations in staff coverage can cause several problems, but the most pressing challenge is managing scoring backlogs since it is imperative that patients receive their diagnosis and treatment in a timely fashion. Backlogs for scoring are common at sleep labs in the private sector, but almost a certainty within the sleep operations at health systems. Unlike private clinics, where staff have been able to cut into backlogs during COVID, many health system sleep professionals have been pulled into different roles within the healthcare organization to support the COVID response. For those sleep professionals with limited time to dedicate to diagnosing and treating patients with sleep disorders, maximizing efficiency requires proper prioritization of work and the right tools to get it done. Childers has long believed that autoscoring would ease that burden for techs. “While running REM Sleep Diagnostics, I tried a lot of different autoscoring solutions in an attempt to support my techs and simplify their lives. I believed autoscoring was going to be the ideal solution for backlog issues. Unfortunately, at the time, none were up to the task,” said Childers, adding: “This was before COVID. Now, we are facing even more pressing challenges in the sleep lab.” According to Childers, COVID isn’t just causing issues on the backlog front. His techs, and techs across the country, have been facing more challenging in-lab patients as a result of the pandemic.
Higher Acuity Stems from COVID, PCP EducationSince the pandemic, sleep centers are seeing a much higher average acuity in the lab. In Childers’ opinion, this is a natural result of increased home sleep testing due to the social distancing caused by COVID.
“The acuity levels in the lab have been much higher recently. I would attribute the rise to the pandemic, but also to the increased education doctors are receiving on sleep health,” said Childers.PCP education on OSA’s relationship with other health disorders is making all the difference in his community. Per Childers, doctors are better at identifying the comorbidities that stem from OSA. “In the past, if a patient walked into a PCP office with hypertension, congestive heart failure, or atrial fibrillation, most PCPs didn’t think anything of it,” said Childers. “Now, they understand the connection between those conditions and a patient’s sleep, and they’re more focused on getting patients in for a sleep study. In my opinion, that’s a major reason for the rise in acuity levels compared to a few years ago.” Although Childers is happy that patients are being addressed properly, he also knows there is a long way to go. And in our conversation, he always came back to how autoscoring could change the world, if it was done right. Per Childers, AI scoring is poised to be the biggest game changer for techs, helping them prioritize their patient-focused work. His biggest piece of advice for techs unsure about embracing new technology like AI scoring is that change isn’t always a bad thing.
“Be patient, and keep an open mind when it comes to AI scoring,” concluded Childers. “Don’t be afraid of losing your job as a tech, because eventually, things are going to change, and as an industry, we’re going to have to evolve. Don’t be afraid.”