Patient adherence rate to sleep study referrals

Let’s talk about patient adherence. I think this is an area that we often overlook and really don’t pay too close attention to, but it is so important to better understand this. Patients become non-adherent for a variety of reasons and it is our job to make sure we know why this is happening so we can improve outcomes.

A study from 2017 looked at the facilitators and barriers to referral compliance among dental patients at risk for obstructive sleep apnea. The goal of this study was to determine the adherence rate to dentist referrals for sleep apnea evaluation. It also looked at the barriers and facilitators to referral compliance.

What the study found

Researchers looked at a sample of 1,099 patients that were given the STOP-Bang questionnaire. Based on the results from this questionnaire, those with elevated risk were referred for a sleep evaluation. After the referral, an interview was completed over the phone to determine if those patients followed through with the recommendation to determine compliance.

The study found that of the almost 1,100 patients screened, 224 (20 percent) were determined to be at-risk for obstructive sleep apnea. However, only 41 of those with an increased risk actually adhered to the referral recommendation. So only 18 percent actually followed through with what was recommended. That isn’t good.

It was found that the most common facilitators to compliance were increased awareness about OSA and dentist recommendation. The most common barriers to compliance were misconceptions about OSA and work responsibilities.

What can we do?

With only a small percentage of patients adherent to the recommendation of their dentist to see a sleep specialist, we need to do something. As dentists we should provide increased awareness about OSA, so that our patients better understand the importance of treatment for the improvement of their health and well-being. By providing better education, our patients can understand just how serious of a condition OSA really is. As far as work responsibilities go, we can look into home sleep testing and inform them that they can work with the sleep specialist to find the best solution.

Continue to educate your patients and staff so that you can not only improve your patients’ health but their adherence as well.