Why do dentists, physicians ignore AHI number recommendation?

When told blood pressure is this number, we pay attention. When we are told AHI is this number, we don’t care. Why is it that we take this number so lightly? I think this is just as important to pay attention to as any other condition. Just as we care about BP measurements, we should also care about apnea hypopnea index, or AHI. I can’t say exactly why the AHI number recommendation goes ignored. But to help, let’s take a closer look at what AHI means for sleep apnea and our patients.

What is AHI?

It is the average number of combined apneas and hypopneas per hour. This helps to determine the severity of a person’s sleep apnea. Here is what to look for:

  • Normal sleep: Fewer than 5 events per hour.
  • Mild sleep apnea: 5 to 14 events per hour.
  • Moderate sleep apnea: 15 to 29 events per hour.
  • Severe sleep apnea: 30 or more events per hour.

While this scale is only for adults, children tend to be less likely to experience sleep apnea episodes. However, most specialists see an AHI above 1.5 as abnormal in children. They typically need treatment if their AHI is 5 or higher.

Treating sleep apnea

Patients with moderate or severe AHI scores may need to use a CPAP machine while sleeping. However, as many of you know, not all of our patients are adherent to the CPAP or can’t tolerate it. When this is the case, it is important to identify oral appliance therapy as an alternative treatment for their sleep apnea.

Lifestyle changes might also be something that you, or their physician, discuss. These changes will often include weight loss, exercising, smoking cessation and changing sleeping position, such as flipping from the back to sleeping on the side or stomach. These lifestyle changes are especially important for those with mild sleep apnea to try to minimize health comorbidities.

What are some ways to improve understanding of AHI numbers and how we can help our patients? I am open to hearing what you all do to continue to help your patients with sleep apnea.

Where is your online content? Add more information now.

Knowing how to write a blog, website content, press releases, educational content and other marketing materials might now seem important. After all, your priority is treating patients, right? While that is correct, you do also need to fulfill marketing efforts to reach those patients. Whether you, a member of your team or a freelance writer works on content marketing for your practice, it is key to establishing your brand. From social media management to blogging and other options, it’s time to get started on developing your online content.

Maintain an up-to-date blog

It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out as a general dentist or you are an established dental sleep medicine practice, it is important to blog on your website as soon as you can. I am aware of how busy you are and how hard it is to juggle multiple projects, but that is why you will need to get a member of your staff or a freelance writer to help. The extra help with writing will eliminate the stress of needing to think of topics to write about in a weekly blog.

So how do you think of topics? It’s actually quite simple, so try not to overthink it. Begin with the services you offer and explain them for your patients. A better understanding of those services is helpful. From there you can dive deeper into topics based on the initial services. And once your writer knows what you want, the easier it will get! The availability of weekly blogs can help to reach your patients while developing trust because you are showing you are an expert in your field.

Hop on social media

While you may already have your own personal Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Instagram, but does your practice? And if your practice is already on social media, are you using it to your advantage? Your writer can keep your social network up-to-date with important information, while also sharing your blog posts each week.

Share important articles, updates on your practice, photos and blog posts so your patients are constantly in-the-know for important information. The number of times you should be posting varies from each network and how often you want your patients to be updated. Try for at least once a week and increase posting with each special message you want to share.

It is important to become an expert in your field, not just at your practice, but online as well. Working with a writer can help you reach your patients and other doctors. It takes the stress off of you and allows you to have creative, up-to-date content for easy access in all areas.

Use technology to reach more patients for sleep apnea care

With an active social network, you can continue to reach your patients and even medical professionals with important information. From sharing educational blog posts to statuses about your practice, and even articles from around the Internet, your social network stands as a vital go-between you and your patients. Let’s take a look at how you can re-examine your social network to help reach more patients for sleep apnea care.

Post consistently. By understanding when people are utilizing the Internet, you can plan out your sharing and posting. For example, most people will go on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram when they first wake up in the morning, at lunch time, after work and then again before bed. If you stick to a time around those indicated, you can further improve your outreach to your patients.

Share important information. Pay close attention to what you are sharing on your social network. Is the information you are posting relatable for your patients? Is it something they really want to know? Think about questions that your patients frequently ask you and utilize information that answers those questions. You can help educate your patients about dental sleep medicine by answering questions, providing resources, sharing images and giving tips.

Social media is the easiest way to educate your patients on your specific area of interest, including sleep apnea or craniofacial pain. Whether you share outside articles or write your own, these social channels are available for you to further reach your patients in any way possible. Let them know that you are available and listening.

Don’t overlook this connection between sleep troubles and stroke

Getting a good night’s sleep is so important for our patients. However, it can often be difficult to come to for some. Sleeping well at night can help prevent stroke, while getting a good night’s rest can be hard for stroke survivors. Studies have looked at the association between stroke and sleep, but doctors continue to overlook that connection between sleep disorders and stroke.

According to a review published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, 50% of stroke survivors have some type of sleep problem. Unfortunately, very few get formally tested because of a lack of awareness among stroke providers.

Sleep disturbances worsen

In addition to increasing a person’s risk for stroke, sleep disturbances may also worsen after a stroke. Remedies to reduce sleep impairments can help prevent a first or subsequent stroke. The report found that more than 70% of stroke survivors have obstructive sleep apnea. One study even found that people with OSA had a nearly twofold increase in stroke or death.

For patients with OSA, it can lead to high blood pressure or hypertension, which may be a reason why some doctors miss this connection. High blood pressure is the strongest risk factor for stroke. However, another big contributor is obesity. Both of these conditions are strongly associated with sleep apnea.  

While it is important to treat sleep apnea in general, it is even more vital that we treat sleep apnea in those who have already had a stroke. Continuous positive airway pressure machines are often the first choice for treatment, but oral appliance therapy might also be a viable option too. Make sure you talk to your patients about oral appliance therapy to ensure they are getting the best care possible. 

What other ways can you make sure your patients are getting the care they need? It is important for us to identify these patients and provide proper care.