Sleep Strategies

Value-based sleep: understanding and maximizing value in sleep medicine care


In addition to well-documented health consequences, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with substantial economic costs borne by patients, payers, employers, and society at large. For example, in a recent white paper commissioned by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the total societal-level costs of OSA were estimated to exceed $150 billion per year in the United States alone. In addition to direct costs associated with OSA diagnosis and treatment, indirect costs were estimated at $86.9 billion for lost workplace productivity; $30 billion for increased health-care utilization (HCU); $26.2 billion for motor vehicle crashes (MVC); and $6.5 billion for workplace accidents and injuries.1

More important, evidence suggests that OSA treatments provide positive economic impact, for example reducing health-care utilization and reducing days missed from work. Our group at the University of Maryland is currently heavily involved in related research examining the health economic impact of sleep disorders and their treatments.

Value-based sleep is a concept that I created several years ago to guide a greater emphasis on health economic outcomes in order to advance our field. In addition to working with payers, industry partners, employers, and forward-thinking startups, we are investing much effort into provider education regarding the health economic aspects of sleep. This article examines what value-based sleep is, how to increase the value of sleep in your practice setting, and steps to prepare for payment models of the future.

Value is in the eye of the beholder

Unlike sleep medicine providers (and some patients), the majority of society views sleep as means to an end and not as an end-in-itself. That is, people only value sleep insofar as sleep will help them achieve their primary objectives, whatever they might be. In health economic terms, these distinct viewpoints are referred to as perspectives. For example, from the patient perspective, sleep is valued to the extent that it helps to increase quality of life. From the payer perspective, sleep is valued to the extent that reduces health-care utilization. From the employer perspective, sleep is valued to the extent that it increases workplace productivity and reduces health-care expenses. Table 1 summarizes common stakeholders and perspectives in sleep medicine.

Speaking the language of value

In order to define, demonstrate, and maximize the perceived value of sleep medicine services, sleep physicians must understand and clearly articulate the values of these multiple constituents. Most important, this means that sleep physicians must move beyond discussing the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). To be clear, no one other than sleep medicine insiders care about the AHI! Of course, the AHI is an important (albeit imperfect) measure of OSA disease severity and treatment outcomes. However, when was the last time that a patient told you they woke up one morning dreaming about a lower AHI? It simply does not happen. Instead, stakeholders care about outcomes that matters to them, from their own unique perspectives. To speak directly to these interests and frame the value of sleep, sleep medicine providers must methodically develop value propositions with each unique target constituency in mind. Speak the language of your audience, and use terms that matter to them.

Adopting value-based payments

Much has been spoken about a transition from fee-for-service to value-based care in medicine. New health-care business models will soon impact patients, providers, payers, and health systems. To guide and ensure sustainable change, multi-stakeholder organizations, such as the Health Care Payment & Learning Action Network, are heavily engaged in the development and implementation of alternate payment models (APMs) to facilitate the transition from fee-for-service to population health. As depicted in Figure 1, sequential steps toward value-based care include increased fees corresponding to improved outcomes. A reimbursement model that is fully value-based centers on shared financial risks. Although private practitioners may be ill-equipped to provide population-level services or negotiate fully value-based models, sleep medicine providers should do well to increase familiarity with APMs and their impact on primary and specialty care services.

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