If you're reading this, chances are that you've already done a little bit of homework and have determined that your nightly sleep troubles may be a sign of a disorder. You want to get help, but you're having a hard time deciding where to get a sleep study done.
Sleep Medicine is a rapidly growing field of expertise, and chances are that in your own hometown there are a few options for where to go to have a sleep study performed. But just like with any industry, there is going to be those clinics that rise above the rest in professionalism, quality services, and customer satisfaction.
The real challenge is finding out what qualities to look for in a sleep clinic and other tips to help you make an informed decision.
10 Tips for Choosing the Best Sleep Clinic
1. Talk to your doctor
If you're having symptoms of a sleep disorder, and you already have a primary care physician, it is often best to discuss your diagnosis and treatment options with them first. Your family doctor should be one of your most trusted allies when it comes to your health, and any questions or concerns you have about sleep should be discussed during your visits.
If you have an appointment coming up with your doctor and you want to voice any sleep concerns, you can go to the appointment prepared. Do so by keeping a sleep journal. In your journal make daily entries that include what time you went to bed, how long and well you slept, if you woke during the night and for how long, if you were stressed that day, what foods you ate, whether you consumed any alcohol or caffeine that day and at what time. These simple entries will help you better explain your symptoms and have a little evidence to show for it.
You can also discuss with your doctor any sleep hygiene practices that you have already tried. This will make the likelihood of being referred to a sleep clinic more likely if you have already taken steps to get better sleep, but have been unsuccessful.
In most cases, your doctor will refer you to a reputable sleep clinic in your area. Your health is your doctor's primary concern, and you can usually feel assured that they'll send you to the best sleep clinic in your area.
2. Find a clinic on your own
Those that don't have a primary care physician, can usually self-refer themselves to a sleep clinic. Although it's best to have a primary care physician who can send over your medical records to a sleep clinic for evaluation, sometimes this just isn't possible. If you're dead set on seeing a sleep specialist without going through a primary care physician, you will more than likely have to have a consultation with a sleep clinic's sleep specialist who will take a detailed history of your symptoms and determine whether or not a sleep study is necessary.
There are a couple of ways to find a sleep clinic on your own. The easiest way is to take to the Internet to do a quick Google search of sleep clinics in your area to help you find a few clinics near you.
Another way to find a good sleep clinic is simply to ask around. With the rise in awareness of sleep disorders and the vast number of people being treated for them, there's a good chance that someone you know may have been treated for a sleep disorder and can give you constructive feedback on the clinic they visited.
3. Choose a clinic by proximity
An easy condition for choosing a clinic is simply by its location. Sure, it may be worth it to drive a small distance to have a study performed, especially if the clinic has top-notch facilities and staff, but sometimes the convenience of having one close to your home or work is the best option. If you're having a study performed during the midweek and need to be to work in the morning, it may be in your best interest to choose one as close to your work as possible to avoid being late.
4. Trained Staff
Arguably the most important quality a sleep clinic can have is highly knowledgeable and professionally trained staff. Two important things to look for in a clinic's staff is if the doctor is a Board Certified Sleep Doctor and the technician who will be monitoring you throughout the night is a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT).
To attain a Board Certification as a sleep physician a doctor must undergo additional training. This constitutes completing a separate two-year fellowship. If you want the highest level of professional care, seeing a board-certified sleep physician is a must. With over 80 recognized sleep disorders, you will want a sleep specialist with experience in sleep studies and sleep disorders to accurately diagnose your condition.
A registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) is a technician that has successfully completed a formal A-STEP (Accredited Sleep Technologist Education Program) training program accredited through the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Successful RPSGTs complete 9-18 months of sleep study experience and pass an extensive 5-hour test. This will ensure that you are in the hands of an experienced professional who follows all standards of practice.
5. They Have Proper Accreditation
When you find a clinic that is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), you know that the services you will receive there are of the highest quality. For more than 30 years the AASM has been setting the standards for the practice of sleep medicine. A facility that has achieved AASM accreditation shows the patient that the clinic follows specific provisions of quality diagnostic services, long-term management of patients, and quality assurances.
To become eligible for accreditation a clinic needs to prove the qualifications of the sleep physician overseeing the sleep center, the education of the technicians, as well as the continued education of all of its medical professionals. Included in the process is a visit from a current board-certified sleep specialist to review the records of sleep tests and conduct an on-sight inspection of the facility.
6. The Clinic Provides Patient Education
A patient armed with knowledge is a patient who will comply with therapy. Oftentimes it's not enough to diagnose a patient with a disorder and start them on therapy treatments without the patient really knowing much about the disorder they have and the treatment they're on. Patients need to have as much information at their disposal as possible and they shouldn't have to go other places to get it.
So many uninformed patients often quit therapy after a few weeks of compliance because they're unaware of the harm that discontinued therapy can cause, or they're not sure of how to properly maintain their equipment or when items need to be replaced.
The best clinics are those that are at the forefront of their industry by dedicating a great deal of effort to spreading knowledge. These clinics have blogs, patient resources, free educational e-books, and are willing to educate you on alternative treatments. They know that successful treatment of patients hinges on the patient's knowledge of their disorder and the benefits of treatment.
7. They Provide follow-ups and monitoring
Having a sleep clinic that provides you with knowledge is great, but some people simply need a little extra push to keep up with their therapy. The sleep clinics that are at the top of the field know that being successful isn't just about filling beds for sleep studies every night and issuing DME equipment to patients in the hope those patients maintain their therapy. The clinics you want to go to are those that will help you stay on top of your therapy.
These clinics follow-up with patients by calling them to see how they are adjusting to their CPAP machines, how they're liking their masks, if the patient is noticing any improvement in sleep quality, if the patient's daytime sleepiness is still a problem, and even letting them know when they be ordering replacement parts of their equipment.
More than just check-up phone calls to patients, great clinics offer wireless monitoring allowing technicians to remotely observe the patient's CPAP devices to check for usage rates, leakage, as well as to adjust pressure settings as necessary. With wireless monitoring, the patient doesn't have to worry so much about how their equipment is performing because a technician can easily alert them of any problems or concerns.
8. They Provide Home Sleep Tests
For the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), sometimes an in-lab sleep study isn't necessary. There are a few reasons why a home sleep test (HST) may be more reasonable than an in-lab test. Some insurance may require an HST as the first line of diagnosis, and will only order an in-lab if absolutely necessary. If a patient has been properly screened by a physician to rule out other sleep disorders that may be comorbid with sleep apnea, an HST is often an ideal choice.
HSTs are meant to diagnose patients with obvious OSA. They're not meant to determine if the patient has OSA, but rather how severe their symptoms are.
HSTs are increasingly being used because the price (about 1/4 the cost of a polysomnogram) is attractive to both insurance companies and patients paying out of pocket themselves.
Patients that live in remote locations or have anxiety about sleeping in a strange place should also ask about the option of having an HST in lieu of an in-lab test.
9. Find out if they are in-network with your insurance
Another consideration to make when choosing a sleep clinic is whether or not the clinic is in-network with your insurance company. Knowing if your insurance company is in-network or out-of-network with your sleep clinic can affect how much your services cost you.
If your insurance company is in-network with a sleep clinic it means that the two entities have agreed upon a reduced price for services, which can save you on your out-of-pocket expenses. If your insurance company is out of network with the clinic, you can end up paying more, or in some cases paying for all of the services.
Some clinics will check for you whether or not your insurance is in-network with them, but it's still a safe bet to check with your insurance company to see which clinic to visit for the best coverage.
10. Visit the clinics and check out their facilities
Sometimes nothing can help you feel like you're making the right choice like actually visiting the facilities. Spending the night away from home in a strange bed can be a little alarming. To put patients' minds at ease many clinics allow people to visit their facilities beforehand. This is a great way to alleviate any uncertainty and address any concerns by seeing all that the clinic offers in advance. Patients can familiarize themselves with the layout, observe the types of rooms they'll be staying in, and even speak with the staff to alleviate their apprehensions.
If you live in Alaska and are looking for a quality sleep clinic to help you with your sleeping problems, you can schedule a free 10-minute phone call by clicking the link below. If you want to get a feel for the kind of services we provide and check us out in person, call or stop by any of our four labs throughout Alaska.