As the importance of treating sleep disorders is fast becoming common knowledge, facilities are experiencing heavy backlog and sleep record outsourcing can help remedy this problem.

d02a.jpg (10008 bytes)Natalie Morin, RPSGT

Anyone who has worked in a sleep facility for an extended period of time has witnessed record backlog. Although it is common knowledge that backlog exists, the level to which it is growing is becoming overwhelming.

Working in sleep laboratories in both Canada and the United States, I saw firsthand how backlog can occur. When a single technician goes on vacation, the record backlog begins and can continue for some time.

While employed at a major pharmaceutical company within its sleep software division, I realized that the sleep medicine industry was experiencing some serious growing pains. Traveling for years to countless sleep laboratories across North America, I was astounded by the numbers that were not operating at full capacity due to a lack of qualified staff. What was even more shocking was the number of sleep laboratories that had severe record backlog. The need for sleep record outsourcing was never more apparent. The only problem is that the model of outsourcing, while extensively used as a business tool around the globe by various industries, has not yet been widely embraced by the sleep medicine industry… until now.

What Is Outsourcing?
Outsourcing means the use of outside assistance to meet in-house needs. It has quickly become the most cost-effective way to enhance internal operations when workloads increase. Why would sleep laboratories turn to outsourcing sleep studies?
    •     if staff and resources are not available internally
    •     improves a laboratory’s focus for continued growth
    •     gains access to world-class capabilities and industry
    •     provides free internal resources for other purposes
    •     reduces and controls operating expenses
The concept of outsourcing sleep studies is quite simple and basic: it completes the patient’s sleep study in-house and sends the records off to be analyzed. This business practice eliminates record backlog, allows for a quick and efficient turnaround time, and creates a faster reimbursement process; most important, patients are diagnosed sooner.

Sleep record outsourcing will become a common practice for many sleep laboratories faced with significant backlog. Most recently, sleep laboratories have realized the benefits of outsourcing their studies and have been able to cut costs, free up internal resources, and increase productivity. Outsourcing is allowing sleep laboratories to grow their facilities during a significant period of growth in the sleep medicine industry.

Selecting A Sleep Scoring Service
There are a handful of companies on the market that offer scoring services, and listed below are several recommendations to consider when selecting a vendor.
    •    Commitment to Quality—inquire about the certifi-
        cation and experience level of each technologist who will
        be scoring your studies. Ensure that the company
        performs quality control procedures and guarantees
        accuracy in its scoring services.
    •    Cost-Effectiveness—price can be associated with the
        turnaround time, quality, detailing of the reports, and
        archiving of the studies. A reputable scoring service will
        customize a pricing schedule based on business
        objectives, volume, and desired turnaround time.
    •    Flexibility—whether it is on a part-time, full-time, or
        project basis, the company should allow for flexible terms
        and you should be able to use them at short notice and
        still request your desired turnaround time.
    •     References—the company must be able to provide
        relevant and timely customer references. Look at long-
        term relationships as a positive indication of services and
    •    Scope of Resources—the company should have the
        ability to grow with your business. They should also be
        able to guarantee the same turnaround times should your
        facility significantly expand.
    •    Value-Added Capabilities—the company should be
        able to offer other services such as sleep training, quality
        assurance, and accreditation preparation. Ask if they can
        be contacted should you have questions regarding a
        particular study or troubleshooting, and if they are
        knowledgeable about the sleep medicine industry as a
        whole, including the sleep software you use.

The Future Of Sleep Outsourcing
According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep problem and nearly 60% of them have a chronic disorder.1 An estimated 80 million Americans will have a sleep problem by 2010.2 These statistics illustrate that the sleep medicine industry is growing at a rapid speed, and sleep record outsourcing will not be a choice but a necessity to meet current demand.

There are a number of laboratories outsourcing sleep studies to individual technicians who provide sleep scoring on a freelance basis. While certain laboratories are finding this solution to be helpful, others have had issues and concerns including quality control, lengthy turnaround times, and inflated costs. Until recently, freelancing was the only option that sleep laboratories were offered. As the future of sleep medicine unfolds and the demand for quicker turnaround times becomes the norm, freelancers will not be able to offer the scalability and quality control of a professional scoring service.

Traditionally, sleep scoring has been managed in-house where it was thought to be controlled most effectively. Through outsourcing, sleep laboratories are beginning to realize that they can improve efficiency and eliminate overhead expenses including salaries, training and recruiting costs, benefits, vacation time, and equipment costs, which allow them to increase productivity and the number of patients treated.

The foundation for any successful sleep facility rests in its ability to consistently produce timely and high-quality sleep records and reports. A sleep laboratory’s reputation and revenue stream are dependent on the integrity, accuracy, and quick turnaround of patients’ studies. When a sleep laboratory suddenly finds itself short-staffed or facing an increase in sleep studies, the outcome is a disruption in workflow and patient care. Developing a relationship with a reliable virtual sleep analysis resource is an effective way to avoid a staffing crisis or a sleep record backlog, allowing for continued growth of your sleep laboratory and the sleep medicine industry.

    Natalie Morin, RPSGT, is president and CEO of Sleep Strategies Inc, Ottawa, Ontario, a provider of professional scoring services for sleep disorder facilities.

1. Awake in Philly Community Education Group. What is the national center on sleep disorders research? Available at: AWAKE/NIHInfo/Sleep Agency.htm. Accessed on January 3, 2003.
2. National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Available at: http://www. sleep/ sleep.txt. Accessed on January 3, 2003.