Med thumb sleep specialist teleconference

More immediate relief is coming to those who toss and turn at night. 

Earlier this week, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) launched a telemedicine platform called SleepTM. The initiative is aimed at increasing overall access to sleep professionals, particularly for under-slept Americans in medically underserved regions.

Access to sleep healthcare providers, such as sleep medicine specialists and therapists, varies considerably across the country. In Manhattan, for example, residents live within 20 miles of 52 accredited sleep centers; only 18 serve the whole Appalachian region, which also happens to be a major “insomnia hotspot,” according to analysis of CDC data. That link can't be a coincidence, which is the impetus for SleepTM.

"The official launch of AASM SleepTM represents the dawn of a new era for sleep medicine," said AASM President Nathaniel Watson in a release. "Sleep medicine physicians are going to appreciate the system's ease of use as well as its sleep-specific customizations, and patients are going to love how AASM SleepTM gives them convenient access to the expertise of sleep specialists."

Image: AASM

Through SleepTM, patients can “see” doctors for virtual consults and follow-up appointments. Doctors can also monitor patients’ sleep habits remotely, as the platform syncs up with Fitbit and offers interactive diary, sleep log and sleep questionnaire features.  

Telemedicine, a 21st century version of the old-school phone consult, is a young field and medical providers, administrators and policy-makers are still figuring out how best to fit non-IRL visits into our current healthcare scheme. For instance, doctors typically can’t bill time for phone consults, but they can for telemedical appointments, which could further complicate already labyrinthine insurance codes. Also, telemedical care falls under state licensing laws based on geographic barriers, despite the fact that patients aren’t stepping into any offices.

But the kinks are worth straightening out, as studies continue to show high rates of diagnostic accuracy for e-care across a variety of specialties, including ophthalmology, behavioral health, endocrinology and infectious disease. When it comes to sleep healthcare, patients can use telemedicine to access both sleep doctors and therapists. Research depicts virtual Cognitve Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as an effective way to treat insomnia. In certain populations, CBT appears to work as well as prescription sleep aids in conquering clinical-grade sleeplessness.

Efforts like SleepTM have a lot of promise. Let’s just hope patients are as excited to get virtual sleep help as doctors are to provide it.