By Sree Roy
When poor sleep is chronic, the negative impacts seep into people’s bodies and psyches, eventually resulting in the squandering of both nights and days to an unmanaged sleep disorder. But when diagnosed and treated appropriately, people with sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and other disorders can see significant improvements in their quality of life.
That is why I was reassured to see the results of Needham & Company’s 2Q20 Sleep Center Survey, conducted in April 2020 in conjunction with Sleep Review. The results indicate that, while COVID-19 is expected to hurt next-12-month patient volume growth, the subspecialty is likely to see a smaller impact than other sectors since patient diagnosis and therapy for sleep apnea can be done remotely without any in-person interaction. Though this survey focuses on sleep apnea, several of the other common sleep disorders that bring people to the doorstep of sleep medicine professionals can also be diagnosed and treated remotely, including insomnia (which is likely increasing in prevalence during the pandemic).
Patient volume grew by 3.5% in the last 12 months (versus 5.0% growth in our prior third quarter 2019 survey) and respondents expect patient volume to decline by 5.7% in the next 12 months (versus 10.7% growth in our prior survey). While this is the worst next-12-month growth expectation in our survey in over a decade, it is much smaller than the declines seen in other areas of med tech such as elective procedures, says Mike Matson, CFA, senior equity research analyst at Needham & Co.
Matson and colleagues also hosted a conference call with Gary Sheehan, CEO of recently formed Spiro Health, which offers services spanning the sleep, oxygen, bracing, and ventilation segments. Sheehan reports that his sleep resupply business has been very strong. Indeed, March 2020 was one of the biggest months for resupply he has ever seen and the strength has continued in April. But he has seen a decline in new sleep patient referrals. To that end, Sheehan has been encouraging sleep professionals to incorporate home sleep testing (HST) and telemedicine into their practices, which could help to mitigate a drop in volumes from social distancing practices.
Many sleep labs and private practices are doing just that. The Needham & Co-Sleep Review survey found that 39% of respondents are shifting to a full telemedicine and HST approach during the COVID-19 pandemic. “While 39% of respondents plan on closing their offices for 3+ weeks, it appears that many are incorporating telemedicine (39%) and home sleep testing (39%) to keep operations running, which could mitigate a significant impact [on] patient volume market growth,” Matson writes.
The virtual diagnoses, treatment, and management of sleep disorder patients for now likely means retaining the ability to care for even more patients later, when it is safe to reopen for in-person visits.
Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review.