Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Starting a Sleep Lab, part three

There are 3 basic types of sleep labs: hospital associated, extension of a physician practice, and independent diagnostic and testing facility (IDTF).
Assuming that a physician is not starting a sleep lab in association with a hospital, the basic choice comes down to IDTF or extension of a physician practice.
In my case, I started Somnus Sleep Clinic with some non-physician owners, so IDTF was the only option.
For a physician or physician group, either form could be appropriate. The key difference is how patients are referred to the sleep lab.

For an IDTF, the Feds mandate that most of the referrals for sleep studies come from outside physicians. Practically, what this means is that the outside physicians refer the patients directly for the sleep study. The sleep physician then sees the patient (if the patient is going to be seen by the sleep physician) after the sleep study (within 3 months will meet AASM guidelines). You need to put some type of statement on the psg order form (which should be signed by the outside referring physician) that a cpap titration will be performed if clinically appropriate- then both studies will count as ordered by the outside physician.

For a sleep lab that is an extension of a physician practice, most of the sleep study referrals (85% is a figure I've heard several times before) need to come from inside the practice. Practically, what this means is that the sleep studies need to come from either the practice's own patients and/or patients referred to the practice for a sleep evaluation (and seen by the practice prior to the sleep study). The order for the sleep study needs to come from a physician in the practice.

There are some other differences between IDTF's and physician practice sleep labs, more to come later.

Postpolio syndrome

ADVANCE magazine has an interesting article about Postpolio syndrome, focusing on respiratory disturbances:

Disordered breathing is among the most misdiagnosed and misunderstood symptoms polio survivors face later in life. Too often their breathlessness and inefficient coughs are misdiagnosed as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For many aging polio survivors, it largely has been up to them to initiate their care and educate their doctors on the medical literature.

One-third to one-half of polio survivors experience new or increased weakening and pain in the muscles later in life. This typically occurs 10 to 40 years after recovering from original polio. This weakening can affect the diaphragm and breathing muscles, causing such disorders as obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, pneumonia, pulmonary restriction, shallow breathing, pneumonia, and diffuse muscle twitching during sleep.

He warns that split-night sleep studies are not appropriate for polio survivors I agree with this; home testing is not appropriate either.

Polio survivors should be given portable volume-pressure ventilators to use with nasal interfaces for ventilatory assistance rather than CPAP or bilevel positive airway pressure, Dr. Bach said. Polio survivors do not benefit from the expiratory positive pressure, he said, and it detracts from the positive inspiratory pressure in assisting the inspiratory muscles.
I disagree, many do have some element of obstructive sleep apnea and benefit from BiPAP. Typically these patients do require a wide differential between the EPAP and IPAP.

A few patients still use the iron lung, a form of negative pressure ventilation. Negative pressure ventilation can predispose to or worsen obstructive sleep apnea, but is very effective in some patients with postpolio syndrome.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Moderate" does not mean "Mild"

I was in clinic most of the day. I told 2 of the patients that their sleep studies showed "moderate sleep apnea". Both of them looked relieved and said almost exactly the same thing, "so it's not that serious?" This necessitated additional time to explain that moderate obstructive sleep apnea is indeed a significant condition that usually affects daytime functioning as well as cardiovascular health.

I'm not sure why this confusion occurred. Maybe "moderate" means something different to lay people than physicians.

I guess I should change my classification, when speaking with patients, to "mild obstructive sleep apnea", "obstructive sleep apnea," and "severe obstructive sleep apnea" to promote clarity.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Latest on Home Testing

I want to thank everyone who's been leaving comments about home testing. Currently the situation is unclear. It seems like a new LCD is written every week. If you have questions about what is covered in your state/Medicare region, I would encourage you to contact your local Medicare carrier or your state sleep society.

If anyone out there has successfully qualified a patient for cpap using home testing and/or has successfully billed for home testing, please leave a comment and share your experience.

A reader asked the following question:

I have some questions reguarding who will or who will be required to give a sleep study at home? Can a sleep technican hook up a patient at their home, by himself? Are can only a sleep technologist hook the patient up, in there home? This just seems like a slippery slope for sleep medicine. To me at the minimal a sleep technican, but what about Nurses or Respritory Therapist? Thank you for responding.

I don't think there are any standards for the hook up. The patient can hook himself up, or he could be hooked up by a technician, nurse, or secretary. I agree with your concerns.

I will be getting a type 3 home testing device in about 2 weeks. I'll let the readers of this blog know how things work out.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Military Sleep Interventions

This month's issue of Focus Journal has an interesting article about interventions that various branches of the military use to promote alertness (PDF file).
I wish caffeinated gum was available for civilians.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Home Testing not covered in many states

The AASM just linked to a new Local Coverage Determination for the following states:
Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Here is the link


Based on a quick read of the LCD, it appears that home testing will not be covered in the above states.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Starting a Sleep Lab, part two

Yesterday, I briefly touched upon the necessity of having patients for your sleep lab. And I am not talking about patients with restless legs or insomnia. Though I find those 2 conditions interesting and challenging to treat, they will not generate a large number of sleep studies. You can't support a million dollar sleep lab billing evaluation and management codes for insomnia!

So where will the sleep apnea patients, the bread and butter of sleep medicine come from?
If you are a pulmonlogist and part of a pulmonary group, you have a head start. If you are a psychiatrist/neurologist/non-pulm internist/FP, read on.

Most likely you will need to be part of a "network/association," and I use these words loosely and am not implying an insurance network. Let me give some examples:

1. You could run a sleep lab for a large multi-specialty group, and get referrals from the physicians in the group. If you choose this route, you will most likely get the professional fee for reading the studies, while the profit from the technical component will go to the group as a whole.

2. You could associate yourself with a hospital, perhaps formally and either be employed by the hospital or you could own the sleep lab with the hosptial as a joint venture. Alternatively you could have a less formal association with the hospital (perhaps do ER call for your primary specialty for the hospital with the understanding that sleep patients from the hospital will be directed to your private sleep lab). If you are associated with a hospital, either formally or informally, you can get referrals from other doctors/groups associated with the hospital.

3. You could sell part of your sleep lab to local physician groups (primarily IM/FP, but also cards, ENT). This strategy can work both in the initial stages of starting a sleep lab or for an established sleep lab.

disclaimer: before putting any of these ideas into practice, consult an attorney. Stark doesn't apply to sleep labs (though it does apply to DME), but anti-Kickback rules do.

ADVERTISING: You probably need to do some advertising to patients, but don't rely on this to generate a large number of sleep studies. And aim your advertising towards osa, not insomnia. More important than advertising to patients is hiring someone to promote your sleep practice to other physicians (this can be done on a part-time basis).

More later..

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Starting a Sleep Lab, part one

I have had several physicians email/call/PM me recently about how to start a sleep lab, and whether it is still possible with the new CMS decision on home testing.

Regarding home testing: this will have a negative financial impact on sleep physicians, but I don't think it precludes a physician from starting a sleep lab. A lot is still up in the air, however, and the full financial implications of home testing are uncertain.

Even before the CMS decision, starting a sleep lab was a difficult process. I would encourage any physician (or technician or business person) who is interested in starting a sleep lab to attend the annual February American Academy of Sleep Medicine Management Course (see the AASM website for details).

Some things for a physician to think about in starting a sleep lab:

1. Where are the patients going to come from? If you are a pulomonologist and part of a pulmonary group, your group can probably generate enough sleep patients to sustain a sleep lab (roughly 1 sleep bed/pulmonologist). If you are a solo psychiatrist or neurologist, things are going to be tough.

2. Are you established in an area? It's easier to start a sleep lab if you are already a practicing physician in an area and a member of insurance networks.

3. Do you have a million dollars sitting around? The start-up costs for a 6 bed sleep lab are $500,000 to 1 million.

4. Who's going to manage the lab (hire/train technicians, get the lab in network/accredited, etc)? There are companies that you can work with in this regard. There are several companies that both own sleep labs and that partner with physicians and hospitals to run sleep labs- United Sleep Medicine, SleepWorks.

5. Don't even think about becoming involved in DME if you are an inexperienced physician just coming out of sleep fellowship. If you do eventually get involved in DME, make sure the situation is reviewed by a lawyer who is knowledgeable about Stark/anti-kickback rules.

More later.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

State of Sleep Medicine 2008, Part one

This is the first in a series of posts in which I discuss sleep industry trends. I'll start with a familiar topic, home testing for Obstructive Sleep Apnea.


3 weeks ago, CMS approved home testing for OSA on a national level. Currently the Medicare Regions are implementing the national decision via Local Coverage Determinations (LCD), which are not expected to veer too far from the National Coverage Determination (NCD). Specifically, either Type 3 (at least 4 channels) or Type 4 devices with 3 channels (not all Type 4 devices have 3 channels) will be acceptable for diagnosing OSA and qualifying the patient for CPAP. Certain type 3 devices have been, and will continue to remain elgible for reimbursement by Medicare under the following CPT code:

CPT code 95806 (unattended sleep study) by definition involves the absence of a technologist. Unattended sleep studies must meet the CPT definition in order to bill CPT code 95806.95806SLEEP STUDY, SIMULTANEOUS RECORDING OF VENTILATION, RESPIRATORY EFFORT, ECG OR HEART RATE, AND OXYGEN SATURATION, UNATTENDED BY A TECHNOLOGIST.

The Medicare reimbursement for 95806 is slightly over $200 (for the combined technical and professional component of billing).

Commercial insurers are expected to follow Medicare's lead in the upcoming months. Aetna is following Medicare's NCD closely.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine accredited sleep centers/labs that offer home testing will need to use Type 3 devices to stay within AASM guidelines.

At least for now, there has been no change in the coverage for in-lab polysomnography (Medicare and all major insurers cover standard polysomnography and do not require portable testing to be done). CPAP titration studies also remain covered. An in-lab CPAP titration study is not required to prescribe CPAP. In the long-term, it is possible that insurers will try to cut down on the number of the more expensive in-lab studies done.

To what extent will home testing replace in-lab studies? Will primary care doctors move into the sleep apnea business and start to offer home testing? To what extent will home auto-cpap titrations (there is no reimbursement for performing this type of study) replace standard in-lab cpap titrations? Will primary care doctors in rural areas try to treat osa without the involvement of a sleep lab by doing portable testing followed by home auto-cpap titrations?

Will Auto CPAP replaced fixed-pressure CPAP???? Rather that performing a titration study (either in a lab or at home), will it become standard practice just to prescribe an auto-cpap machine set with a range of 4-20 for permanent use, and then perhaps narrow the pressure range over time???? This would be the most economical strategy for insurance companies, and I think that this is where the sleep industry is headed over the next 5-10 years. I don't think that this is the best strategy for patient care, however.