It’s no surprise that sleep deprivation has far reaching consequences that make it much more than a simple health issue. Several studies have found that sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are costly not just for individuals, but also for our economy as well. It was just a few years ago when researchers estimated that insomnia cost the US workforce a whopping $63.2 billion a year. So how much of an economic impact does narcolepsy have on individuals and the American economy?
While studies that have explored this question have not boiled down the societal cost of a narcolepsy diagnosis to solid dollar figures, a study published this year by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine did find that narcolepsy diagnoses come with “substantial adverse impact” on both direct and indirect costs related to mental health, economic burdens, employment opportunities, and resource use.
“When we think about health economic costs, we consider both the direct medical costs of treating the disorder as well as the indirect costs such as increased healthcare utilization, lost workplace productivity and, increased accident risk,” says Emerson Wickwire, PhD, who is the director of the Insomnia Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and was not involved in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study. “Patients with narcolepsy demonstrate dramatically increased costs in all of these areas.”
Indeed, a 2014 study published by Sleep Medicine concluded that narcolepsy patients have approximately twice as many annual inpatient admission rates, emergency department visits without admission, hospital outpatient visits, outpatient services, and physician visits than those without narcolepsy. Patients with narcolepsy were also found to have twice as many total annual drug transactions and an overall significantly higher average of medical services costs than those without the sleep disorder.
Because of the severity of this chronic neurological disorder, patients also often bear indirect costs related to their increased risk of accidents while driving or operating dangerous equipment, higher likelihood of unemployment, and loss of academic opportunities.
Although a narcolepsy diagnosis can pose challenges to a patient’s socioeconomic standing, there are effective treatment options that allow patients to effectively manage the impact of this disorder.
“This is one reason why early recognition is so important, and why it’s vital that the field of sleep medicine seek to educate non-sleep providers about the warning signs and symptoms of possible narcolepsy in their patients,” says Wickwire.
What’s worse, according to Wickwire, is what occurs when patients with narcolepsy go untreated or are unable to receive a proper diagnosis for their condition.
“Let’s say that a narcolepsy patient is misdiagnosed as having depression and thus mismanaged for a decade or more and let’s say that during that decade, this patient incurs substantial medical costs due to unrecognized and untreated narcolepsy, and maybe they have a workplace accident or motor vehicle crash too,” says Wickwire. “Those costs will be borne by insurance payors, employers, and taxpayers, respectively.”
Yoona Ha is a freelance writer and digital strategist.