Saturday, November 10, 2007

Job Security in Sleep Medicine

A reader asks about the implications of portable home testing for OSA: Certainly some sleep labs will remain active. There are pediatrics and very sick patients that will need all night testing. I work as an RPSGT at a lab that is highly regarded and has a good reputation. What can I expect for the future? How will doctors discriminate between those patients that can use portable units at home and those that need in lab testing?

As a RPSGT, you have good job security, at least for the next 10 years. New AASM and Medicare standards (Medicare standards vary region by region) are making RPSGT's increasingly in demand.
For example in the following five states, all studies on Medicare patients must be performed by a "certified polysomnographer" by January 1 2008: Arkansas, New Mexico - Oklahoma - Missouri (Eastern) Louisiana. No one knows exactly what "certified polysomnographer" means but it almost definitely includes RPSGT's and probably also RRT's.

Due to Medicare/AASM standards, sleep studies are becoming increasingly expensive tests to perform. The AASM requirement of at least 1 tech per 2 patients, certification requirements for techs, restrictive policies on performing split-night studies, etc make sleep studies expensive. So what's their solution for high cost sleep studies? Portable home studies in which their will be no technician to replace electrodes that come loose and take care of other problems that invariably come up. Medicare and the AASM created the problem of expensive testing with all their requirements, and now their solution is a low cost, inferior test. If saving money is the goal, why not just relax the standards (maybe 1 tech for 3 patients) and lower the reimbursement a little bit. This would be a better solution, in my opinion, than widespread portable home testing.

Home testing for OSA is a complex subject, and I will be posting more about this in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading.

2 comments:

info said...

"No one knows exactly what "certified polysomnographer" means but it almost definitely includes RPSGT's and probably also RRT's.

Due to Medicare/AASM standards, sleep studies are becoming increasingly expensive tests to perform. The AASM requirement of at least 1 tech per 2 patients, certification requirements for techs, restrictive policies on performing split-night studies, etc make sleep studies expensive. So what's their solution for high cost sleep studies? Portable home studies in which their will be no technician to replace electrodes that come loose and take care of other problems that invariably come up. Medicare and the AASM created the problem of expensive testing with all their requirements, and now their solution is a low cost, inferior test."

This is an interesting take on the issue. For me, "certified polysomnographer" does not by default include RRTs. THE ONLY ONE BY DEFAULT IT DOES INCLUDE IS RPSGTs.

As a Sleep tech since the early eighties, the costs associated with PSG have grown from the staffing side of the equation. At first, I worked in a world class Neurology based sleep laboratory. I was paid a salary commensurate with other Neuro-based technicians. Only with my move to a pulmonary based sleep facility, did I enjoy a major "bump" in my salary, as the facility did not have a pay scale for this "sleep tech" classification. Taking this new job allowed me to be the only technical sleep person in the facility and as such, I fit a unique role, but got wedged into a generic technician job category. I quickly exceeded that description and moved up, and hired other techs to work under me. Some of them had Respiratory backgrounds, and thus, we equalized the sleep tech and respiratory therapists pay scale, since we had to pay some "techs" who were also RTs. This now raised our costs significantly. We are paid equal to the RTs in Respiratory, but that was just a market demand, the equation of duties is nowhere near equal. The RTs, working in "Respiratory" perform Respiratory treatments, and we perform Sleep testing and Sleep treatments, irrespective of one's background. The only RTs who can perform sleep medicine testing and therapies are the ones the AASM, ACCP, and ATS have considered appropriate; those that are properly educated and proficient in sleep medicine. Otherwise, they are performing outside of their scope of practice.

So, in the end, my history does not offer a similar perspective on the issue of cost, as the equipment has lowered in cost, but the staffing has artificially increased. And, as these two major components of sleep testing continue to hurtle towards their eventual end points, the need to control quality sleep medicine in whatever aspect, arena or capacity a patient is tested in, should ALWAYS fall to properly trained and experienced individuals.

As for a 3/1 pt/tech ratio, 3 techs (whatever their backgrounds) taking care of 9 patients with all of the hand holding and interaction that patients undergoing PSG for titrations, pediatrics, or seizures, etc, necessitate, it does at least include a modicum of expectation of response from the technical staff. The 3 patients being taken care of, offer no consolation for the 6 (66%) of the other patients possibly calling out for them.

Proper ambulatory testing can be accomplished, if all portable testing go through sleep doctors; on the front end (proper sleep consultation) and the back end; (sleep doc interpretation.) This would force the "certified polysomnographers" to be the ones performing these portable testing duties, and how that will interplay with the expectations of different allied health field entrants into the pool of "certified polysomnographers," we will have to wait and see. Some of these entrants might get bored, thinking that portable sleep testing and therapies is below their training, and some might find it a very interesting and important aspect to the milieu of sleep testing, that if anything, this shows is not stagnate.

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