By Sree Roy

A major challenge for the sleep medicine subspecialty is the huge number of people who are unaware that they have sleep apnea. Meanwhile, people with undiagnosed sleep apnea are frequently weighed down by the sleep disorder’s daytime symptoms and/or comorbidities, without realizing that efficacious treatments are available, if only they knew to seek them out. In the communities of central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland, integrated health system WellSpan Health has made a sizable dent in the number of undiagnosed cases.

WellSpan sleep program director asked about creating an online screening tool for sleep apnea after taking a WellSpan-created risk assessment for breast cancer screening. “I reached out to marketing, and we moved forward from there,” says program director Tammy Sterner, RN, BSN, MEd, NE-BC. “A web designer internal to WellSpan developed the concept.”

Sterner hoped the health risk assessment would create public awareness, information, and demographic data, and most importantly provide people with a starting point to have conversations with their primary care physician (PCP) about sleep. Since May of 2019, 2,082 people have completed the online screener. Of those, 87% were found to be at risk for sleep apnea and 13% not at risk. “The ability to print out the results and take along to show their PCP is a bonus,” Sterner says.

[RELATED: 4 Questions a Doctor Will Ask During Your Sleep Apnea Screening]

The health risk assessment was marketed through Facebook advertising, direct mail, and email. Social media messages were seen by a wide group of people in the region. For the direct mail and email campaigns, the PR & marketing team worked with the health system’s customer relationship management vendor to pull lists of patients within the electronic medical record system. List inclusion criteria included ICD-10 codes for comorbidities and other conditions associated with sleep apnea.

Sree Roy Sleep Review
Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review.

To make sure WellSpan’s primary care physicians were on board and referrals would be appropriately made, physician office liaisons helped deliver targeted communications to referring providers. Informational handouts were developed for the specific services that the sleep medicine program was promoting. Sleep leadership also directly communicated with the system’s medical directors to share across primary care, specialty practices, as well as used internal newsletters as a communication tool.

The team continues to get the word out at health fairs and community events, where they hand out rack cards developed by WellSpan’s PR & marketing team. “I carry the rack card with me to every meeting,” Sterner says. The cards say, “Are You at Risk for A Sleep Disorder? Learn your risk today. Text ‘SLEEP’ to 717-553-0616 to take a brief online assessment.”

The health risk assessment was one piece of a robust marketing campaign and the health system plans on using it again during its next round of advertising.

Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review.

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