Touchette Regional Hospital didn’t plan to start a sleep program. Patients of the Centreville, Ill, facility could have their sleep disorders managed by another hospital’s sleep lab, which was geographically close enough to allow for commuting. But when that hospital relocated, its sleep center moved farther away from Centreville. Now Touchette patients with sleep disorders had nowhere to turn.
Touchette suddenly needed to build a sleep center within Centreville city limits but didn’t have anyone in-house with sleep-specific expertise. Fortunately, Clayton Sleep Institute (CSI), a well-established sleep center in St. Louis, Mo, was only a 30-minute drive away. And since 2005, CSI has run an affiliate program through which its expertise and success are shared with hospital-based and freestanding sleep clinics. CSI accepts affiliate partnerships where it can see a “win-win-win”; that is, a win for the affiliate, a win for the patients, and a win for CSI.
“It’s definitely rewarding,” Matthew Uhles, MS, RPSGT, RST, chief operating officer of CSI, told me over the phone. At Touchette, its newest affiliate, he reviews the patient feedback. “I’ve been overwhelmed by how grateful the patients are,” he said. “It’s an underserved, inner city community. And we’re able to provide a service right in the neighborhood.”
CSI’s affiliate program started serendipitously. In the early 2000s, two nearby sleep centers that needed assistance reached out to CSI. “Based on the success of our clinic, they reached out to us,” Uhles said. “We agreed to partner.” These days, most CSI affiliate referrals come from physician word-of-mouth, typically from doctors who have seen CSI’s work at one site and recommend CSI to another site at which they also have privileges.
The affiliate program offers customized solutions. “We’re available to assist in whatever capacity, whether that’s minimum involvement or full turnkey (managing the entire lab for them),” Uhles said. For example, currently one affiliate is asking CSI questions about accreditation as it undergoes the application process, while another is requesting assistance with sterilization compliance prior to a lab inspection, and a third is asking input on blueprints for its lab expansion. “They are getting that knowledge as if I was right down the hall from them,” Uhles said. At least once a month, CSI senior staff visits each affiliate site in person to meet with hospital administration and local CSI staff.
If you manage a successful sleep lab, is launching an affiliate program a viable way to increase your bottom line in an emotionally rewarding way? It could be, but only if you already have a well-oiled infrastructure and a variety of expertise. “It takes people with a wide range of experience and the ability to be adaptable. You never know what the facility will require,” Uhles said, adding that “the ownership of Clayton Sleep have been very supportive of being strategic in setting up the infrastructure and setting aside my time and others’ time.” For example, CSI recently hired a new director of research to take on some of Uhles’ responsibilities so Uhles can devote more time to affiliate partners.
Whether you want to start an affiliate program, or you want to contract with one to help launch (or relaunch) your sleep lab, these programs are one way to take a winning formula and multiply it for the benefit of more patients and communities.
Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review.
Images courtesy Touchette Regional Hospital