By Sigurjon Kristjansson
For all the challenges that 2020 has brought, there have been equally as many opportunities to innovate—especially in the healthcare field. One particular area of innovation is arguably more critical than ever: the importance of healthy sleep. The fact that sleep affects overall health is simple enough, yet effective delivery of sleep health care is complex and fraught with challenges, especially in a society that is less mobile in 2020.
Nearly half of the U.S. population suffers from sleep issues from time to time, and that number is likely far greater at present due to added stress from the pandemic, the economic crisis, social unrest and a high-stakes election. There are more than 80 recognized sleep disorders, yet only 20% of people with the most common sleep disorders receive any sleep health care. Why? A lack of awareness of the importance of sleep health, a complicated healthcare system and inadequate access to treatment and support. These factors prevent far too many from getting or staying on the treatment they need.
At Nox Health, we have a vision to significantly improve access to sleep healthcare through our SleepCharge and Nox Medical solutions. We have always been committed to pushing the boundaries of sleep health care delivery, from telehealth technology to diagnostic innovation, and our learnings over the years are relevant not just to the field of sleep health, but to the broader healthcare industry as organizations adapt for sustainability and scale in the current pandemic environment.
Telehealth before it was trendy
The pandemic catalyzed a telemedicine boom, and understandably so. People did not stop getting sick or needing doctors just because shelter-in-place orders were passed. Now, nearly 10 months past the nation’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, telemedicine is almost ubiquitous. It has become a necessity for everyone from specialists and ambulatory practices to dentists and mental health clinics, but it hasn’t been an easy transition. Providers have had to invest in new technology, train staff and patients to use it, introduce new workflows, adjust schedules, and then fight to get properly reimbursed for those services.
At SleepCharge, however, we’re able to look beyond the nuance of telemedicine to see its full potential—not just in sleep health, but across the entire healthcare industry. SleepCharge by Nox Health is a national sleep health program that helps employers prioritize the safety and health of their workforce by providing access to care through a telehealth delivery platform. With a vision to streamline the sleep healthcare system, SleepCharge implemented a telehealth delivery model for population-based sleep health care more than a decade ago. For us, telehealth delivery is more than a necessity-driven logistics solution; it helps us make sleep healthcare more accessible, more effective and easier to navigate.
For all healthcare providers, telehealth represents an opportunity to deliver high-quality care at scale. SleepCharge’s success perfectly exemplifies this opportunity. Using technology to connect patients with physicians and behavioral and medical management teams, SleepCharge’s sleep treatment success rates exceed 90% over years of care, compared to only 40 to 50% of patients who receive meaningful treatment in the traditional healthcare scenario. With the right technology and processes in place, specialized sleep healthcare providers reach more people with more effective treatment than ever before.
The business case for healthy sleep
Over the last 10+ years, SleepCharge has proven not only the viability of the telemedicine model for treating populations at scale but also the significant impact of improved sleep on overall health. Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and hypertension are a tremendous burden to both the patients and the U.S. healthcare system. Experts continue to stress the importance of preventative care as one of the best ways to reduce the prevalence and severity of these conditions, and sleep is a key part of that equation.
Studies indicate that patients who suffer from chronic insomnia incur two to three times higher healthcare costs, are twice as likely to have a workplace accident and incur two to three times the amount of sick leave and disability when compared to other employees. At SleepCharge, we help some of America’s largest employers improve the overall health of their employees just by improving their sleep. The impact is most evident in healthcare costs. We have helped clients lower total healthcare costs by more than 20% and lower per-member-per-month costs for people suffering with chronic conditions, including a 13% healthcare cost reduction in people with hypertension. Not only do employers reduce direct and indirect employee expenses; they also gain the benefits associated with a more well-rested, healthier, and higher-performing workforce.
By simplifying and streamlining the delivery of sleep health through employer wellbeing and health programs, we are able to help individuals become more proactive in managing their own health and more engaged in preventative care that could greatly improve their quality of life in the long-term.
Diagnosis and treatment—the final puzzle piece
It’s not enough to raise awareness and improve access to sleep health care; the diagnostic and therapeutic care must be professionally supported with medical and behavioral expertise. Nox Health’s diagnostic arm, Nox Medical, has set a new standard, helping to make comprehensive sleep testing accessible through home sleep testing device technology that performs a full, polysomnography sleep test in the comfort of the patient’s home. By prioritizing patient comfort and convenience, these devices allow patients to have their sleep tested where and how they would naturally sleep, improving accuracy and reducing the need for retesting.
As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) become increasingly integrated into diagnostics and sleep monitoring technology, there is even greater opportunity to enable sleep healthcare care at scale and improve outcomes. Nox Medical’s new BodySleep™ analysis is just one example of how machine learning is providing sleep physicians with new insights about patients’ sleep using sophisticated algorithms and data analytics. Greater insights allow for a greater dimension of care. As AI and ML technologies advance in sleep diagnostics and monitoring, physicians will be able to spend less time manually reviewing data, and more time on follow-up care and medical management, which is key to improving clinical outcomes as exemplified by the SleepCharge model.
The holistic view of sleep health
The field of sleep health is circular in its challenges and solutions and therefore must be approached from a holistic perspective. We must continue creating awareness for the importance of sleep health, continue pushing to streamline the process to receive care, continue innovating to create more accurate and efficient diagnostic technologies and continue scaling personalized patient support to improve treatment outcomes. If the process fails at any point, patients are prone to give up altogether or start back at the beginning further down the road, often with detrimental impacts to their overall health.
At Nox Health, we are uniquely positioned to provide this holistic perspective due to our diverse business units that touch every corner of our specific field; however, healthcare providers across a variety of specialties can learn from the challenges facing the sleep healthcare field and the technologies that have enabled us to innovate and provide standardized, successful, evidence-based sleep healthcare to large populations across geographies.
Sigurjon Kristjansson is CEO of Nox Health, a global sleep health company with diverse expertise from developing the industry’s most advanced diagnostic technology, to providing access for treatment of sleep disorders through telemedicine for Fortune 500 companies.