Right now sleep apnea is the most popular kid in school.
It makes sense. If we're looking to get our practices busier, then adding a new service is smart. Our existing patient base can be treated and (oh, wow!) we can actually attract brand-new patients. Whitening was a great hook for a while (and it still can be-see Dr. Stacey Simmons's article from January DE) but now people can get it in malls, at the hair salon, and even for free at some dental offices. So here we are with a shiny new hook: "Stop snoring! Sleep apnea can kill! We know you hate your CPAP!"
Sleep apnea is a serious condition, the CPAP gold standard and alternative therapies are not well-embraced by the public, and our mandibular advancement therapy is noninvasive. This is the perfect scenario for our profession to enter the arena and be the hero. No wonder it's so popular.
And let's add to the equation that it all looks so simple-take some impressions, send it to a lab, and hand an appliance to a patient. If you wanted to add a different service to your practice, like placing implants, that would require a lot of time and money for courses, more money for equipment, the potential liability if you get in over your head, and so on. But with sleep apnea you just have the lab do the work for you, just like making a mouth guard, right?
Tread into these waters carefully, my friends. Treating sleep apnea is about much more than taking impressions. Like any other dental condition, we must properly diagnose, plan treatment, and execute to ensure a good clinical outcome and do no harm. We strive for excellence, so we should fully understand what sleep apnea is, be able to read a sleep study, be able to evaluate an oral appliance, and know how to optimize mandibular advancement therapy, among other things.
Even when we have achieved competency or mastery of the clinical considerations, we can still fail on the business front. How do we market to existing and potential new patients? How do we effectively present treatment options? And how the heck do we bill medical insurance?
This issue of DE is going to provide a lot of answers. It should also raise more questions. We're tackling the subject of sleep apnea as a science, a patient life-saver, a marketing instrument, and a way to breathe new life into our practices.
Sleep apnea is the most popular kid in school ... and you're about to ask it to the prom.
Chris Salierno, DDS