Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition requiring a long term strategy. While your initial discussion is probably going to be with your family doctor, they will more than likely refer you to a sleep specialist for testing, diagnosis and treatment. Because this is a long term commitment, it is important to build a positive relationship with the sleep specialist from the start. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a sleep professional.
- Ask for recommendations. This is probably the most obvious advice, but it can yield some great results! Your doctor may give you a list of qualified sleep specialists in your area. Ask your friends, family, and/or co-workers if they have any personal recommendations. I tried 3 different respiratory therapists before a co-worker recommended the one who would eventually be perfect for me. A personal recommendation from someone whose opinion you trust is worth more than any marketing campaign.
- What are their credentials? This is your health at stake. You want to ensure the person is qualified and certified to help you with your sleep apnea. Depending on where you live you might have access to a hospital or clinical sleep laboratory. In that environment you probably need not worry about the credentials of the people there. It will become more of an issue if you are dealing with individual specialists. Their certifications should be displayed in plain view. Do not be afraid to ask them about their education and experience. If you don’t like what you hear, cross them off your list.
- Financial considerations. Sleep therapy is not cheap. A good CPAP machine can cost $2000 or more, and does not include the ongoing costs associated to replacement masks, hoses, etc. Most people do not have unlimited funds at their disposal and will be working with an insurance company to cover a portion of these costs. If possible find a therapist who direct bills the insurance company, reducing your out of pocket expense. If you are required to pay the entire cost up front and then submit your receipts, check with your insurance company first to ensure they have had smooth dealings with this professional in the past.
- Is there a satisfaction guarantee or return policy? I went to 3 different therapists and tried 3 different CPAP machines before settling on “the one”. Thankfully each time I tried a new one I was offered a 30 day trial for a minimal fee, which was also covered by my insurance. You will want to avoid a situation where you pay for a CPAP that isn’t right for you. Trust me, 30 days is more than enough time to know whether or not you want to keep it. Even taking into consideration an adjustment period, you should know after a week or two whether this is the right unit. If they do no include a 100% satisfaction guarantee return policy in a reasonable time frame, be wary.
- What is their sales pitch like? Let’s not forget… this is a business for them. The flip side is that they need to remember this is about health to us. There needs to be a happy middle ground. Some of my earlier respiratory therapists were salespeople first and health professionals second. I felt that I was being sold to. I was a customer. That’s not a good feeling. My current therapist takes a much different approach. I am a patient. We are partners. She works with me to ensure I am getting the best sleep possible. And by creating that relationship, I happily support her business. Maybe more importantly to her, I spread the word which gets back to #1 on this list.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. Lastly, it is the sleep professional’s responsibility to provide you with the best expert advice available. It is your responsibility to listen carefully and consider the advice given. Do not be afraid to ask questions or seek a second opinion. After all, this is your health. Listen to the experts and make an informed decision.
If you are looking for a place to start, the national organizations for respiratory therapists can provide you with information on sleep clinics in your area.