Sleep Review takes you behind the scenes of home sleep testing manufacturers’ technical support lines, revealing some of the most common patient questions and their solutions.
By Stephanie Forshee
Because home sleep testing (HST) occurs at night, many manufacturers find a call center with 24/7 availability is crucial to a seamless operation. But more than that, HST providers should be equipped with skilled service technical support lines that can guide patients who are, in most cases, completely unfamiliar with the product until it is delivered to their homes.
NovaSom is one such provider that prides itself on its skilled technicians who man the phone lines for patients seeking help with their HST devices. “Beyond availability, it is the caring and supportive nature of our sleep technicians, backed by their technical expertise, that makes all the difference for our patients,” says Michael Coppola, MD, executive vice president of medical affairs and chief compliance officer for the company.
“Our sleep technicians are skilled at the nuances of telephonic support to help patients through understanding the importance of diagnosis if there is any hesitancy in testing.”
For Glen Burnie, Md-based NovaSom, one of the most common calls is as simple as: “Did you receive my data?”
“Because the AccuSom transmits data wirelessly to our sleep technicians each morning after testing, patients proactively reach out to make sure that we’ve received it,” Coppola says. “This is great as it shows our patients understand a key part of our value proposition—that we can reduce the time between testing and interpretation, which can significantly jump-start therapy, if needed. Given obstructive sleep apnea’s significant impact on comorbidities and quality of life, this is important.
“This question also demonstrates patient engagement, which is key if a positive diagnosis is made and therapy is required. Engagement early on in the diagnosis process should be a good sign for therapy compliance downstream, when the real healthcare improvements occur.”
Other phone calls from patients demand a deeper level of expertise, however, than just a simple “yes” or “no.”
A common issue that arises at the call center for Yorba Linda, Calif-based CareFusion is: “No flow was recorded for most of the night.”
In which case, a service technician typically replies with: “When using the Nox-T3, it has a backup flow channel called digital volume transducer (DVT). This is a calculated flow based on the respiratory inductance plethysmography (RIP) belts. For future testing, techs should make sure the cannula was on the patient; suggest adding some tape to the patient’s instructions so the patient can tape down the cannula on his face.”
Another popular scenario from a patient sounds like: “The pulse ox reading was missing or was intermittent for part of the study.”
A technician from the support staff, all of whom are registered polysomnographic technologists (RPSGTs) with an average of 10 years in the clinical field and an average employment tenure with CareFusion of 8 years, will respond with something along the lines of: “There are multiple possible causes for this issue. The most common is: The probe came off the patient inadvertently during the night. The simple solution is to include some tape with the HST kit and instruct the patient in addition to placing the probe on his finger, he should wrap a piece of tape around his finger to better secure the probe. Another cause could be nail polish. We recommend that patients remove all nail polish, because that can interfere with the value and quality of the signal.”
In other instances, CareFusion’s staff answers questions related to download procedures, customizing auto score analysis, and creating custom reports.
SOMNOmedics frequently takes calls from patients inquiring: “Do I have to switch something on when I go to bed?”
According to the company’s marketing director, Stefanie Becker, a staffer will answer: “No, all of our devices are programmed to start and stop automatically. Did the doctor show you how to use the markers?”
Another situation a caller often presents is: “The doctor told me that the recording will start at 11 pm. What if I am not yet sleeping then?”
The response: ”No worries. The real time sleeping will be adjusted tomorrow. And you do not have to stay in bed sleeping for all the 9 hours. Just arise whenever you want to.”
But SOMNOmedics’ calls aren’t all so straightforward. Becker says the company once received a quirky phone call from a patient in an unusual predicament. The caller said: “My husband started using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) [machine] a couple of days ago. Now I can’t sleep anymore, because I don’t hear him snoring, and I wake up every 10 minutes to check if he is still there.”
Whatever the reason for the HST inquiry, one of five SOMNOmedics employees—who split the undertaking of covering the 24/7 time span—will take the call.
“Providing a service hotline is an essential part of our success and our clients’ success,” says SOMNOmedics’ Becker. “The service we provide contributes to building confidence and knowledge for physicians, sleep labs, and patients.”
Find out what it takes to be on the receiving end of an HST 4-1-1 call via an exclusive to this feature. Additionally, for a side-by-side comparison of home sleep testing technology, see Sleep Review’s HST Comparison Guide.