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One or more of these seven common mistakes may be to blame.

When you decided to add a sleep medicine program to your practice, you didn’t think it would be this difficult.

You’ve taken classes and did some training with your team, yet you’re still struggling to really get the program off the ground. You know the need is there, but you just can’t seem to make your program work. You’re failing at treating sleep apnea, and you can’t figure out why.

The team behind N3Sleep, the consulting division of DreamSleep that provides customized training for dentists and their team members, can help. They’ve worked with countless dentists of all experience levels over the years who, like you, struggled to find success early on. Why? It usually came down to these seven common mistakes that most dentists make when starting a sleep medicine program. Here’s a look at those seven pitfalls and how you can overcome them.   

1. You don’t have a sleep coordinator

Adding a sleep coordinator to your team is crucial to your program’s success. This team member owns the protocols and processes for treating sleep in your practice and oversees each patient’s progress. Tasks include ensuring all patients are screened, monitoring and testing HST units, updating paperwork and records, calling patients to schedule their sleep appointments and coordinating peer to peer reviews with insurance companies when needed.

Eventually, every team member will be able to take on these tasks, but your sleep coordinator will need to guide them. He or she will be a coach of sorts, providing support as everyone adjusts to the new sleep protocols.

Some dentists opt to give specific jobs to different team members instead of hiring a sleep coordinator, but that’s a mistake. There’s a lot to keep track of, and if different people are responsible for different things, it will be easy for patients to fall through the cracks. If you have one person overseeing the program, more patients will get the treatment they need and you’ll start to see real growth in your sleep program.

2. You didn’t offer enough team training

If team members aren’t trained properly, they’ll be nervous and uncomfortable screening patients. This lack of confidence will result in errors in the records, billing and insurance filing, or them opting to skip screening completely. The process breaks down, leaving everyone feeling frustrated.

Lack of training has a domino effect. Team members aren’t sure what to do so they don’t screen patients. HSTs sit unused or stay in patient’s homes for too long, leading to insurance and billing problems. Your relationships with sleep physicians start to break down because you’ve lost your confidence as well. This, in turn, impacts case presentation, resulting in fewer patients accepting treatment.

Bottom line: Take the time to train your team. And keep in mind training will take more than a few days. Systems need to be integrated into daily workflows, behaviors must be reinforced and the new processes practiced. 

3. Lack of team buy in

Teams not only need to be trained on your new protocols, they also should be excited about them. If there’s no buy-in, screenings will be inconsistent or may not happen at all. It’s critical to educate team members about the many health benefits of treatment. Show them how oral appliance therapy improves your patients’ lives, and they’ll be just as excited as you are about offering it.

Allow team members to see the benefits of treatment firsthand by treating one of them or one of their family members. Once they see the difference treatment makes, they’ll be more excited about the practice’s sleep program and more likely to contribute to it.

4. Inconsistent screening/noncompliance

If team members don’t understand how critical it is to identify patients with sleep apnea, they might see screenings as just another task they don’t have time for. Screenings become inconsistent and patient who need treatment begin to fall through the cracks.

How can you make screening more consistent in your practice? Beyond educating them on the importance of treating sleep apnea, train team members to look for the physical signs that indicate a patient might have sleep apnea, such as obesity and neck size, and to talk to those patients about being screened. They also should know what symptoms to ask about, including snoring. Consider putting a script together so team members are comfortable educating patients about sleep apnea and why treatment is so important, and to keep messaging the same no matter who is talking to patients.

Consistent screening is critical to growing your program, so make sure team members understand why screening is so important and their role in achieving success.  

5. Poor case presentation

If your case presentations aren’t effective, patients won’t accept treatment. Remember, patients look for reasons to say no. It’s your job to show them how treatment can change, even save, their lives. Convey the urgency and the risks associated with skipping treatment and you’ll find more patients opt to move forward.

How can you improve your case presentations? It all comes down to clearly and effectively communicating with patients. Talk at their level, using plain terms about the risk of living with untreated sleep apnea. Go over treatment options, how treatment will work and how accepting treatment will positively impact their daily lives. Let them see you want to help them and that you have the training to do so, and they’ll be much more likely to say yes to treatment.

6. Medical billing problems

This can be a big one for dental practices. Billing medical insurance is a different animal than billing dental insurance, but it’s necessary for sleep apnea treatment. Hiccups in the process can lead to delays in treatment and high out of pocket expenses for patients. Patients might decide not to move forward because of the cost, or the insurance company might direct them to another in-network provider. If patients do accept treatment, billing mistakes could lead to longer waits for you to get paid or lower reimbursements.

Train your team to be experts on the ins and outs of medical insurance. Keep in mind the process can be frustrating and inconsistent, but with the proper training team members will have the knowledge necessary to make the process go smoothly. A properly trained staff will help ensure you’re reimbursed for every eligible procedure, which includes tests and scans related to general dentistry. You also can outsource medical billing to a third party if that better fits your practice’s needs; just make sure you have someone you can trust handling billing.

7. You don’t have strong physician relationships

Developing strong connections with physicians in your community is key to growing your sleep program and reaching new patients. Focus on building a local network of physicians you can trust and who can trust you, and you’ll find you have more patients to treat.

You can start by educating physicians about oral appliance therapy and when it might be the best treatment option. When you have a severe case you need to refer out, bring it to a local physician, explain how you work and why this particular case requires an MD. Documenting and sharing cases you’ve completed is another great way to earn their trust, making them more likely to refer mild and moderate cases to you instead of another dental practice.

Working directly why physicians also helps ensure they provide patients with consistent messaging. Many clinicians think CPAP is the only sleep apnea treatment, or that it’s the most effective. Once they’re educated about oral appliance therapy, they can talk with patients about those benefits as well, which include better tolerance and a higher compliance rate than CPAP.

Without physician referrals, your sleep program will struggle. It takes time and effort to build a network of referring physicians, but it’s worth it.

Expert guidance

N3Sleep, the consulting division of DreamSleep, provides state-of-the-art, individualized treatment and implementation processes that can help you build a successful sleep program. Through our training, you learn how to overcome these common pitfalls and what it takes to be successful. We’ll teach you how to seamlessly integrate sleep medicine into your dental practice, ensuring patients suffering from the condition finally get the help they need.

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