Through a turnkey system and outsourcing sleep studies, the Sleep Technology Institute in Sugar Land, Tex, keeps its staff on the cutting edge.

 Kevin Asp, CRT, RPSGT

Starting a sleep laboratory can be a daunting and risky task, making some hospitals leery about tapping into the sleep market. But there are ways to minimize this risk. Using a full-service turnkey system, Sleep Technology Institute (STI) Ltd, Sugar Land, Tex, assumes all of the risk, establishing the sleep laboratory and building the market for its hospital clients.

STI was initially established in 1996 as a consulting service, which primarily provided education to polysomnographic technologists at new freestanding and hospital-based sleep laboratories. The service filled a void in the rapidly expanding sleep field. “Initially, we saw a need as the number of these clinics was expanding exponentially—there was a real lack of available education for the staffing at each of these clinics,” says Kevin Asp, CRT, RPSGT, president of STI. The company did not establish its own laboratory in Sugar Land until 1999, when it also moved into opening new laboratories and providing testing services for patients. STI now has seven locations of its own and four client locations spread across Texas, Alaska, and Illinois. It currently employs about 20 people. The Sugar Land location also acts as a centralized headquarters where the company processes the data for its client and satellite offices.

Turnkey System
STI’s turnkey system provides all the necessary equipment, staffing, policies and procedures, and educating technicians to get the laboratory up and running. STI provides scoring services and other support, which keeps staffing and costs to a minimum. Networking the hospital to STI’s encrypted information system is provided to its turnkey clients at no charge.

The networking allows more experienced technologists to assist on-site technologists via a live streaming video and computer feed, helping to solve any problems that may come up in real time while the study is being recorded. Referring physicians are also able to view the study live via their home or office computer. All computer transactions are compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and exceed the government encryption specifications, Asp says. This real-time support is one of the ways that STI stands out from its competitors.

Scoring Sleep Studies
Another way STI stands out, says Asp, is in handling the scoring of sleep studies—probably one of the most crucial tasks a sleep laboratory does—until the new laboratory has a polysomnographic technologist with enough experience to score the tests on their own. “It’s very important to accurately score this data for the interpreting physicians, because you’re their eyes and ears, and you need to be able to go through [the data] with a fine-toothed comb and provide very good polysomnograms for those physicians to interpret,” Asp says. “Cost is definitely an issue; the most expensive personnel are the daytime persons who do the scoring.” The basic service offers other advantages for the STI laboratories including further cost savings with volume discounts and efficiency with same-day turnaround. STI also provides a comparison scoring service, which checks the scoring of a laboratory’s technologist against a technologist at the institute’s Sugar Land headquarters. Scoring can be done on an as-needed basis as well, covering technologists’ vacations and assisting in the reduction of backlog. Once a sleep study is scored, it is sent back to the laboratory electronically secure with a turnaround time as soon as the same day.

Developing the Market
In addition to setting up and supporting the laboratory technically, STI develops the market, which it does through a process that resembles education as much as traditional marketing. “The key to a successful sleep center is education, education, and education,” Asp says. “We’ve found that you never lose out on the investment in education for the medical community because they’re going to be able to better identify the patients who need to be evaluated, and know what course of action to take to care for those patients, which ultimately will bring more patients through the doors of the sleep center.” For physicians, STI provides lectures by medical experts and literature, and sponsors local professional meetings. For the lay public, STI provides speakers at various forums including health fairs, National Sleep Awareness Week events, and radio.

As the field of sleep medicine continues to grow, STI will too. Asp says that the company is in the process of setting up sleep centers in several states including Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Arizona. STI’s hospital contracts typically run 3 to 5 years. At the end of that time, hospitals have the option to take over the operations of the laboratory.

C.A. Wolski is associate editor of Sleep Review.