Thursday, September 04, 2008

Patient Problems at Sleep Labs

A reader commented:
"The problems of sleep labs are not just compliance with regulations. Sleep lab operators need to run good facilities which are tolerable for patients. It took me a long time to recover from the emotional torment of lousy techs who answer every question "you would have to ask your doctor." Insurance companies pay through the nose for the testing, but there is never a doctor available to help the hapless patient. When I couldn't fall asleep during titration and asked for sleeping pills, the tech said he would ask a supervisor, the supervisor hummed and hawed "What kind of meds did you bring with you?" "None, " I said, "never needed any." "Then I will call the doctor, maybe we can get some presecribed for you for tonight." When the doctor did not call back, she said "He hasn't called, but actually you were sleeping beautifully for nearly 3 hours you just woke up a few minutes agao and began calling out for help, which is why I came in!"

Thanks for reading. Actually, the problem is with government regulation. From your description I am assuming that sleep center you went to was an Independent Diagnostic and Testing Facility (IDTF)- a slight majority of sleep centers are IDTF's as opposed to hospital-associated sleep centers or sleep centers that are an extension of a physician practice.
Somnus sleep clinic, which I am a minority owner of, is an IDTF. Because of anti-kickback rules, only a minority of patients can see me prior to the sleep study. Government regulations require a majority of patients to be referred by an outside physician directly for a sleep study.
As medical director, I am available to the technicians for patient emergencies. However, if the techs call me in the middle of the night for a directly referred patient who can't sleep, it puts me in a legally awkward situation of giving a medication to someone who is not my patient. And where is the sleeping pill supposed to come from? Should I call in a prescription to an all-night pharmacy and have the patient drive to go get it (with all the electrodes pasted in their hair)? I guess I could give them one of the samples from my private practice- however new CMS (Medicare) regulations that take effect Jan 1 2009 put new restrictions on the interactions between physicians and IDTF's.
If all of this seems confusing to you, I would encourage you to look through the archives and look at my posts on management of a sleep lab and ownership of a sleep lab.
And technicians are supposed to tell you to ask your doctor about any medical inquiries.

If any sleep physicians out there who practice in IDTF's or hospital-associated sleep labs have a solution for patient requests for hypnotics, I'd be interested in hearing them.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

For those of you suffering from insomnia and other sleep disorders, there is a new website which empowers patients to partner with their doctors to take control of their health conditions.

Go to to get tips on how to talk to your doctor.