This is part three in a six-part series on the evolution of the sleep technologist. AAST has engaged professionals from across allied healthcare to address, from their perspective, the value of collaborating closer with sleep technologists and/or incorporating the discipline into their area of health.
Evolution, by any stretch of the imagination, can be a hard concept to grasp. It involves acknowledging that what is happening at the moment might not be the best thing to bring into the future, but trusting that the unknown is going to lead you to where you should be. How we take care of our patients today needs to adapt to the changing healthcare environment, where reimbursements are fluctuating and insurance payors are creating an uncertain future. The way in which we have always done things needs to adapt to this new healthcare reality. The sleep field has evolved tremendously over the years, and the role of a sleep professional continues to grow within the sleep realm.
I have seen such evolution occur in my career. I started as a polysomnographic technologist performing sleep studies at night, and over the course of the next seven years was trained in scoring, durable medical equipment (DME), physician visits, and day to day sleep center operations. Through the education provided by phenomenal teachers and mentors I learned the importance of a well-rounded approach to patient care and critical thinking skills. It was because of those skills that my new role as a Sleep Health Navigator was born. This entailed screening inpatients at multiple hospital locations for sleep disordered breathing and creating a proper care plan for these patients post discharge.
The role involves identifying patients who are at risk for sleep disordered breathing, assessing and educating them regarding how their sleep disordered breathing could be exacerbating their comorbid conditions, and working with the medical staff and physicians to get these patients scheduled for a sleep study. It also involves educating the staff and doctors on the importance of sleep and how either an undiagnosed or non-compliant patient could lead to readmissions or exacerbate the multiple comorbid conditions with which they are presented.
This role requires proficiency in pathophysiology, epidemiology and clinical guidelines for sleep disorders and treatment options. One must be competent in clinical assessment using standardized diagnostic tools and have the ability to work within multiple electronic medical record programs. It is also important to be able to collect, analyze and track data to draw out trends and facilitate the utilization of the program. Education and management of patients with sleep disorders requires understanding of multifaceted disease processes.
The type of individual capable of all these characteristics most often has a higher education level. The professional world in general now expects a higher degree of education in order to satisfy certain criteria upon which they are measured. The sleep field is no different as we find ourselves in a world shifting from episodic care to outcomes based medicine that relies on care coordination. The Certification in Clinical Sleep Health (CCSH) exemplifies how the field has evolved. The CCSH examination is an advanced-level examination for healthcare providers and educators who work directly with sleep medicine patients, families, and practitioners to coordinate and manage patient care, improve outcomes, educate patients and the community, and advocate for the importance of sleep. This advanced level of practice requires the skillset to think critically about case management and evaluate the bigger picture to determine patient needs.
Today, the evolution of the sleep professional means obtaining a higher level of education and fulfilling the role of an educator in spaces we had never considered before. Taking care of the sleep needs of the world involves inhabiting space in new, exciting areas. In order to do that we must expand our comfort zones and push ourselves to new heights. Thinking outside the box and rising to the next level is exactly what it takes to evolve and thrive as a sleep professional in our ever-changing world. What is keeping you from taking your career to the next level?
Catch-up on the series:
Part one with Rita Brooks, MED, RPSGT, REEG/EPT, FAAST
Part two with Tim Chrapkiewicz, DDS