In the days before the novel coronavirus swept across the world, the medical community had already started to look to telemedicine as a viable way to reach patients. When the pandemic hit, many institutions throughout the United States were forced to urgently switch gears and adapt quickly to the new normal.
Sleep medicine is no exception. In March, many clinical sleep labs and private practices closed their doors to patients as public health officials called for social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. The regular rhythms of how sleep medicine providers conduct business and care for their patients changed in what felt like a blink of an eye. This new reality pushed telemedicine and other no-contact solutions, such as mail-order home sleep test delivery, to the forefront of sleep specialists’ minds.
A Sleep Review survey showed a large percentage of providers were exploring new remote options or scaling up existing programs. Just under half of respondents, 46.6%, switched patients from in-person visits to telehealth visits for follow up appointments while 29.5% began offering virtual visits to new patients during the pandemic. About 44% changed patients from in-lab sleep studies to home studies and 20% reported ordering more mail-order home sleep tests.1
“The coronavirus pandemic has greatly accelerated the use of telemedicine,” says sleep specialist Kelly Carden, MD, MBA, who is the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) president. Will these sudden changes be woven into the “new normal” or will in-person visits soon return as the norm? And are sleep clinicians prepared?