This is part one in a six-part series on the evolution of the sleep technologist role. AAST has engaged professionals from across allied healthcare to address, from their perspective, the value of collaborating more closely with sleep technologists and/or incorporating the discipline into their area of health.
The face of healthcare is changing. And right along with it, the face of sleep technology is changing as well, driven in part by such trends as a movement toward patient-centered, integrated and accountable care, ambulatory sleep testing, and telemedicine. Add to this a new layer to patient adherence and advancements in monitoring that include the ability to determine adherence to oral appliance therapy, new implantable devices, and a new focus on the importance of sleep, and what you have are dramatic shifts that are impacting us all.
Considering these changes, the AAST board of directors believes that certain tasks and roles may evolve to become the responsibility of lower-cost staff such as medical assistants. However, at the same time, sleep technologists will need to improve their skills, knowledge base, and education in order to provide a higher level of care in sleep centers that are testing and treating more complicated patients and expand into new roles. Additionally, we believe the organization needs to consider expanding its constituency to include other roles within the sleep arena, such as medical assistants (MA's), dental assistants and hygienists, nurses and respiratory therapists, and to provide targeted sleep education for these many new participants.
In addition to expanded clinical roles for the sleep technologist, such as sleep educators or patient navigators to identify and safeguard hospitalized patients with sleep disorders, we may also see new roles begin to emerge within the sleep center. Roles such as 'Sleep MA' or 'Sleep Therapist' could become prevalent-which means a higher level of both education and collaboration with other allied healthcare disciplines will be essential.
As part of our 2017-2018 Strategic Plan, AAST has identified two goals which address this need for tighter collaboration.
One is the recognition and definition of the various roles in a sleep program, the skills required, and development of professional standards for each role within the context of the changing healthcare environment. Once these important tasks are accomplished, we must identify and develop the education necessary for those moving into these roles to assure they succeed. At the same time, the AAST has been redefining the role of the sleep technologist within and outside of the sleep center; recently developing new job descriptions and competencies for the Sleep Educator. As other new and expanded roles are defined, similar tools and standards will continue to be developed to support them.
Another goal is effective communication with AAST members and stakeholders, including identifying how to best communicate with newly identified stakeholders. This isn't a new goal, but rather one that is being emphasized more as a result of the rapidly occurring changes in sleep medicine and technology, and healthcare in general.
We are dedicated to communicating with stakeholders in a way that maintains relevance for our traditional membership (sleep technologists), while at the same time, earning the interest of and building relevance for other identified stakeholders.
With this, I am pleased to announce that we are actively engaging with stakeholders across allied healthcare on €˜the changing role of sleep technology'. We have collaborated with some of the brightest minds across the following disciplines to start a virtual "conversation" on this topic:
- Sleep Education
- Myofunctional therapy
Over the course of the coming weeks you will see blog posts from professionals in each of these disciplines, picking up and continuing the €˜sleep technology' conversation across their respective disciplines. I am excited to share the thoughts and ideas posed by each author as they define, in their own opinions, the ways in which sleep technology can become more integrated within the broader field of healthcare.
The AAST will continue to serve as the leader in defining the evolving role of the sleep technologist. Germaine to this is defining various new roles emerging in the expanding world of sleep medicine that could benefit from the educational programs and learning tools we offer or becoming part of our community of sleep professionals. We envision AAST as a resource for medical assistants, dental technicians, and even those in back office roles such as billing specialists or other administrative staff roles.
I am excited to share what these thought leaders have in store! I think their perspectives open the door for us to collaborate and share our sleep expertise in many ways that will benefit those with sleep disorders who are being identified and treated by professionals in many other healthcare disciplines.
Rita Brooks, MED, RPSGT, REEG/EPT, FAAST