Now that many patients can hook up their own electrodes for a home sleep test, does that bode lights out for sleep technologists as a profession?

Night technologist jobs in sleep medicine are likely to decline in the future, I agree, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a dearth of opportunities for sleep technologists. After speaking with experts during a “Sleep Review Conversations” podcast, I’m optimistic that the opposite may prove true. Sleep technologists who prepare to fill expanding roles both inside and outside the sleep center may find their skills in higher demand in the future, and in positions with daytime working hours to boot. Here are some options.

1. Challenging In-lab Patients: If you want to work in a capacity similar to that of the traditional role, then you’ll want to increase your education in how to handle patients with serious comorbidities or who are otherwise poor candidates for home sleep tests (such as children). Donna Arand, PhD, secretary of the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists, shared that she’s seen three patients in wheelchairs enter the lab in a single night. In other words, the future holds increasingly sicker in-lab patients and requires techs who can do difficult titrations.

2. Patient Care: Sleep techs are moving into daytime patient care roles, such as instructing patients on how to use home sleep testing equipment, said Rita Brooks, American Association of Sleep Technologists president. “If the technologist is seeing the patient who’s on CPAP and doing the download and reviewing that data and giving the physician a synopsis of what’s going on with the patient, it’s saving time for the physician who is now able to see more patients,” Brooks said.

3. Sleep Center Management: Sleep center management and billing, such as communicating with payors regarding preauthorization, is another area in which interested sleep techs can excel. Arand said: “If organization skills and management are their forte or they’d like to do that, that’s a piece they can add onto their already existing knowledge.”

4. Beyond the Sleep Lab: The growth of home sleep testing could ultimately mean that more physicians will offer obstructive sleep apnea testing to their patients—and a sleep tech would be ideal as the sleep medicine liaison for a primary care office. Additional external opportunities are likely as well. Robyn Woidtke said: “I could also see the sleep technologist’s role being integral as part of possibly an intensivist or a hospitalist team within the acute care environment providing necessary services for CPAP application during an acute period.”

I don’t have a crystal ball, and neither did the podcast panelists. But it is clear to me that preparing for a changing role now will pay off in the future. Perhaps James P. Krainson, MD, said it best: “It’s just going to be a matter of persevering, gaining as much knowledge, as much extra certification. Those are always good benefits and extra skills that will be valuable. The more you’re associated with other types of sleep disorders and other types of health problems and you have a good grounded aspect of people’s generalized health, the more valuable you’ll be.”

Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review. CONTACT [email protected]