by Glennine Varga, AAS, RDA, CTA
Let’s face it – it’s not always fun and games when wearing oral appliances to improve sleep breathing but on the other hand there are some fun things we team can do to enhance our patient’s experience.
It amazes me how fast the sleep industry is growing and producing some really cool wearables, apps and sleep hygiene products. Let’s use them! My great mentor, Dr. Dick Barnes, is fond of saying: “It’s time.” The time is now my dental sleep friends – IT’S TIME to discuss sleep breathing with everyone we know! This is going to take a lot of educating and evaluating each person, where they are in their therapy, and what they are ready to hear. You may be thinking, “that sounds hard” – and you’d be right, it is. Precisely the reason we should make it FUN!
Ideally, your practice is set up for two types of sleep patients – the diagnosed and un-diagnosed. For the undiagnosed patient our goal is to educate the patient on the importance of good sleep and how bad breathing can affect it. Our goal is to help them obtain a diagnosis. Depending on the patient’s medical insurance policy (if you will be using that) you can recommend or help facilitate either a sleep evaluation by a physician to order a test or a diagnostic entity that will administer a home sleep apnea test (HSAT). We team can make this process fun. Yes, FUN I say…
Think of your practice as a wheat field that goes for miles and miles. You’re not sure how it became this huge wheat field, but it did. Your dentist is not a farmer, nor do you know anything about wheat – how to manage it, sell it and you’re not quite sure what to do with it. There are some farmers close to your wheat field that are losing their farms because the way they set up their farms isn’t working any more. They can’t get paid for growing wheat according to new standards and most are having to do a complete restart. The wheat market is strong in your community. What do you think can be done in this situation? In your dental practice your current un-diagnosed sleep patients are the wheat field and the farmers are local diagnostic sleep physicians setup for polysomnography (PSG) studies. Most medical insurance policies require an HSAT before PSG which has thrown a wrench in the system. Sleep physicians are retiring, selling or restructuring their businesses. Seek out your local diagnostic entities, aka your local farmers, that would welcome your undiagnosed patients. FUN opportunity #1 – Once you’ve established a relationship with a local diagnostic entity, plan a fun event for your team and invite them to the party. Bowling, gaming facilities, rent out a night of painting and wine events – anything that will bring both offices together. Make it airway themed get to know each other. Invite a few patients you have in common, especially if we team think they’ll have a good time. If no one shows from your diagnostic entity keep inviting them. Who knows, this could spark more awareness within your community. Always think local and organic – the majority of your patients will come from within 30 miles of your practice.
For the diagnosed patient, if they are ready to move forward with therapy (whether they qualify for medical insurance benefit or not), they first decide if they like and trust you. They must value their health and your therapy more than their money. How is this different from the dentistry you provide? It’s different because oral appliances save lives and can dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life and health. Don’t get me wrong – I believe dentistry can do the same, but airway therapy is more urgent because of the masses of people that suffer with un-diagnosed sleep disordered breathing. It’s your job to provide information to your patients about your therapy. You’ve got this! You do this every day in dentistry. The big difference is, in dentistry we have tons of educational tools, videos and hundreds of years of passed along information to explain to patients what a crown is or how to manage periodontal disease. Dental sleep medicine is barely going on 26 years of only about 1% of dentists explaining sleep breathing to patients. We have an uphill battle! The good news is with today’s technology and social media interactions we can lean on some fun ways to educate, manage and follow up with our patients. FUN opportunity #2 introduce your patients to some apps like sleep cycle to monitor duration and quality of sleep or Pzizz, an app that helps users slip into sleep using a combination of music, words and sounds. I like the sleeplog app. It allows the patient to provide notes regarding their sleep and graphs the information provided. SnoreLab is another popular app. This is great for subjective information for your follow up visits and to monitor compliance. Keep in mind none of these apps or devices are HSATs but a fun way to monitor success. Create games in the office with your patients and reward them sleep goodies, like eye masks, nose cones, positional pillows or team up with local retail that sell anything sleep related. Get creative and again think organic!
FUN opportunity #3: work with the oral appliances themselves! Most patients who commit to oral appliance therapy become attached to their appliances. Wearing and cleaning them is a daily/nightly occurrence. When possible personalize your patient’s oral devices. Get with your dental labs and find out if anything can be done to personalize them, different acrylic colors or adding your favorite sports team logo. You never know what your labs can do, they are remarkable! Keep in mind some of the appliances are patented to be a certain color or made in a specific way. As we look to the future of dental sleep medicine more and more patients will become aware of this great therapy and will seek out your services. As we navigate medical insurance and deal with high deductibles and lower benefit allowances some patients may bring up the value question or even consider it elective treatment. Build value not only in the medical benefits, but why not make the appliances as attractive as possible? Brighten up your patient’s oral appliance experience. Here are some examples: Create a home care package with a fun info-gram on sleep hygiene or recommendations for better sleep. Provide your patients and referring physicians with easy-to-read progress reports that demonstrate success. Most patients would love to get something from you mid treatment expressing enthusiasm for their progress. Once Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) is achieved, work on a success story with your patient’s permission. For long term follow up patients create a recall system similar to your hygiene recall system to keep them in your practice. Oral appliances need to be repaired and replaced from time to time. Always remember life is short, have some fun. Your patients will have choices when it comes to therapy, get creative so they choose you!
Editor’s Note: This Sleep Team Column will be dedicated to the team and provide practical tips and resourceful information. Let us know your specific issues by email to: SteveC@MedMarkMedia.com, while we can’t respond to every individual. Your feedback will help us create the most useful Sleep Team Column we can!