Screening and treating high-risk employees for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could save corporations millions of dollars in lost productivity, according to research presented last week at SLEEP 2011, the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, held in Minneapolis.

The findings show that a large corporation in Florida could save an estimated $136 million in lost productivity over 10 years by screening high-risk employees for OSA and offering treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. The study found that 608 employees of the corporation were middle-aged, obese men who were at high risk for OSA.

Untreated OSA can result in job performance deficiencies such as excessive sleepiness, cognitive dysfunction, irritability, and reduced vitality, according to the researchers. Previous research shows that work performance can be decreased by 30% due to sleep fragmentation and repetitive hypoxia, characteristics of OSA.

Applying epidemiological data related to OSA screening, diagnosis, and treatment to the specific demographics of the corporation, the researchers based their calculations on statistics that 70% of high-risk individuals were diagnosed with OSA, and that 75% of patients with OSA are compliant with CPAP therapy. Therefore, they estimate that 319 of the 608 high-risk employees would have OSA and be compliant with treatment.

The researchers made conservative statistical estimates, considering lost work productivity as the variable and using half of its predicted value. For each of the 319 treated employees, productivity was estimated at $150,000 per year. Recovering the 30% of productivity that was lost due to OSA would yield an annual gain of $14.4 million. Estimating the cost of diagnostic screening with polysomnography and treatment with CPAP therapy to be $7.2 million over 10 years, the researchers determined that the corporation would have a 10-year net savings of $136 million.

“Companies may become more proactive in screening and treating their employees for OSA due to the predicted financial benefit,” said Clelia Lima, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C, a family nurse practitioner in the College of Nursing at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “The importance goes beyond the improved cognitive function and savings of millions of dollars in work performance, since treating OSA adds other health benefits.”