Nearly 1 billion people worldwide have sleep apnea, a chronic disease wherein patients stop breathing for 10 or more seconds at a time while sleeping. That’s roughly 1 in 7 people.
This statistic—from a new study presented in May at the ATS International Conference—is nearly 10 times greater than the previous estimate made by the World Health Organization in 2007.
That means the number of people who have sleep apnea is more than twice the number of people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease. What’s more, untreated sleep apnea is strongly linked to other chronic conditions and cancer, as well as an annual nationwide cost of $150 billion in motor vehicle and workplace accidents.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that sleep apnea is treatable, and there’s a modern tool that enables patients to be more adherent to therapy than ever before: the cloud.
How Digital Health Changes Lives
The gold standard of sleep apnea treatment is a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine that delivers air through a mask to keep the patient’s airway open while he or she sleeps. Cloud connectivity in PAP devices has revolutionized how health care professionals manage their patients and has significantly increased therapy adherence.
Patient Management: Then and Now
Managing patients with sleep apnea has historically required lots of hands-on attention from the home medical equipment providers that provide patients with their therapy and often act as coaches throughout treatment. Lack of digital connection to patients meant there were frequent in-person appointments, evaluation of sleep data recorded on physical memory cards within the patient’s device or a reliance on handwritten postcards to receive updates on patient usage—plus no options for remote troubleshooting.
Today, cloud-connected remote monitoring devices enable health care providers to see patients’ data right on their desktop each morning. Providers can view groups of patients experiencing the same therapy issue (automatically organized by the software, so they can manage patients by exception) and focus support resources on the patients who need it most, when they need it most.
Remote monitoring helps save clinicians valuable time and resources—59 percent of their patient management time, according to one study published in Sleep and Breathing, a publication covering the science and practice of sleep medicine. Remote monitoring has also been shown to improve adherence to therapy—vital for both patients to slow disease progression and HMEs to meet strict reimbursement mandates. Another study presented in May at the ATS conference revealed that 75 percent of patients managed via ResMed’s remote monitoring platform, AirView, were compliant with their therapy, compared to an average of 50 percent for those without cloud-connected PAP devices.
When patients self-monitor their therapy with a smartphone app, adherence rates jump higher still. More than 87 percent of patients were compliant with their PAP therapy when remotely monitored plus self-monitoring, according to a study published last year in CHEST, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians. The utilization of digital health services has proven helpful in encouraging patients, increasing system efficiencies and reducing costs across the board.
Clinical Research in the Digital Age
The most significant and untapped benefit of digital health is the vast amount of data recorded by connected technologies, such as capturing 2 billion nights of sleep data, which can be de-identified and analyzed in just weeks to uncover and validate treatment strategies to better serve patients and improve health care efficiencies—a process that historically would have taken years to produce insights.
As the number of people with chronic conditions continues to rise—nearly half of the U.S. population is expected to have at least one condition by 2025—digital health is an important solution to meet their growing needs. It may also play a part in reversing this ominous trend as we continue to uncover more actionable, data-backed insights. We can no longer afford to engage in labor-intensive care and need to adopt technologies that will create efficiencies while simultaneously providing patients with the highest-quality care.