[6 min read] Why GPs need to increase their understanding of sleep disorders and snoring

Why is it important for general practitioners to increase their understanding of mainstream sleep disorders and snoring?

As community awareness about inadequate sleep rapidly grows – boosted by publicity around excess screen time – more and more people are trying to self-manage their sleep patterns. Commonly, they gather data from smart watches and apps that monitor the duration and quality of their sleep.

When these people attempt to consult their GP about their poor sleep or snoring habits, they are often referred for a sleep study, of which there are many levels. Until recent Medicare changes, GPs often referred patients for a level one in-lab sleep study because they thought this was the best approach for the patient, or because they did not know the difference between the levels of sleep studies available.

A level one sleep study is expensive, requiring a costly overnight stay in an unfamiliar bed, which raises concerns about whether the results are truly representative of normal sleep patterns. A lower level study will often suffice and Medicare covers the cost if certain criteria are met.

When the sleep study indicates obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), the patient finds themselves back with their GP who has little understanding of sleep disorders or the most appropriate therapeutic option in their particular case. The GP has little option but to refer the patient back to the sleep study service for treatment, and in many cases their commercial interests supersede sound medical judgement and optimal therapeutics. A one-size-fits-all CPAP solution is often recommended by the sleep study service for the patient and minimal if any aftercare is provided.

OSA is a chronic condition and its treatment and management belong in primary care along with other chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

CPAP may be the most common treatment for OSA, but it is not the only treatment option and may not be the best therapy for that individual. Anatomically, it simply may not work. Further, the patient may not really want it, may not be able to afford it, and they may never habituate to CPAP treatment without ongoing care and support. GPs can often be funded under Medicare to provide that support.

Where the GP has diagnosed their patient with any severe condition, they have an obligation to provide continuity of care. OSA in its severe form has significant health risks for the patient and may also have risks for others – for example, if that patient were to drive machinery or a heavy vehicle. To minimise litigation risk for the doctor, a complete understanding of the condition and its consequences – and how to diagnose, treat and manage it – is vital for every GP.

 

What you can do to address patient concerns

HealthCert is committed to delivering professional development courses that meet the needs of primary care doctors and optimise patient outcomes. We are considering addressing the lack of GP knowledge regarding sleep disorders by developing a Professional Certificate of Sleep Medicine. The proposed course would address snoring, insomnia and OSA, as well as its symptoms and co-morbidities. The process for understanding patients’ sleep patterns and the diagnosis, treatment and management of sleep disorders and snoring would be explored.

The Professional Certificate course would escalate to the Advanced Certificate of Sleep Medicine in which GPs would gain a deeper understanding of OSA and snoring, learn to interpret sleep studies and reports, understand why some therapies are better than others and why some will just not work, and access a treatment pathway whereby continuity of care ensures greater success for patients. Doctors would learn when best to refer and when not to, and what the referral options are. The course would also provide the option for a clinical attachment in sleep medicine to gain an in-depth understanding of the anatomy of the upper airway and the impact of various conditions.

GPs who prioritise patients’ sleep – along with a balanced diet and regular exercise – are the cornerstones of holistic health. They can become involved in an opportunity to upskill in sleep disorders, which can further develop a special interest in this growing field and ultimately lead to better patient outcomes, rewarding professional growth and the development of a key practice differentiator.

A recent study shows the success of suitably trained GPs in treating sleep disorders. Learn more here.


Interested in Sleep Medicine?

The HealthCert Professional Certificate of Sleep Medicine would offer a broad understanding of sleep disorders and their treatment for primary care doctors. Interested in learning more? Please email info@healthcert.com to register your interest!

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