Sleep Strategies

Inpatient sleep medicine: An invaluable service for hospital medicine


Estimates suggest that nearly 1 billion adults worldwide could have sleep apnea (Benjafield AV, et al. Lancet Respir Med. 2019;7[8]:687-698). Even with the current widespread use of portable sleep testing, cheap and innovative models of OSA care will need to be developed to address this growing epidemic. This fact is particularly true for communities with significant health disparities, as the evidence suggests diagnostic rates for OSA are extremely poor in these areas (Stansbury R, et al. J Clin Sleep Med. 2022;18[3]:817-824). Current models of care for OSA are predominantly outpatient based. Hospital sleep medicine offers a potential mechanism to capture patients with OSA who would otherwise go undiagnosed and potentially suffer adverse health outcomes from untreated disease.

What is hospital sleep medicine?

Hospital sleep medicine includes the evaluation and management of sleep disorders, including, but not limited to, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and circadian rhythm disorders, in hospitalized patients. Our program centers around proactive screening and early recognition of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB). Patients at high risk for SDB are identified upon entry to the hospital. These individuals are educated about the disease process and how it impacts comorbid health conditions. Recommendations are provided to the primary team regarding the appropriate screening test for SDB; positive airway pressure trials; mask fitting and acclimation; and coordination with care management in the discharge process, including scheduling follow-up care and diagnostic sleep studies. This program has become an integral part of our comprehensive sleep program, which includes inpatient, outpatient, and sleep center care and utilizes a multidisciplinary team approach including sleep specialists, sleep technologists, respiratory therapists, nurses, information technology professionals, and discharge planners, as well as ambulatory sleep clinics and sleep laboratories.

Evidence for hospital sleep medicine

While there has been interest in hospital-based sleep medicine since 2000, the most well-validated clinical pathway was first described by Sharma and colleagues in 2015 (Sharma, et al. J Clin Sleep Med. 2015;11[7]:717-723). This initial application of a formal sleep program demonstrated a high prevalence of SDB in hospitalized adult patients and led to a substantial increase in SDB diagnoses in the system. Subsequent studies have demonstrated improved outcomes, particularly in patients with cardiopulmonary disease. For example, there are data to suggest that hospitalized patients with congestive heart failure or COPD have increased rates of readmission, and early diagnosis and intervention are associated with decreased rates of subsequent readmission and ED visits (Konikkara J, et al. Hosp Pract. 2016;44[1]:41-47; Sharma S, et al. Am J Cardiol. 2016;117[6]:940-945). Long-term data also suggest survival benefit (Sharma S, et al. Am J Med. 2017;130[10]:1184-1191). Adherence to inpatient PAP trials has also been shown to predict outpatient follow-up and adherence to PAP therapy (Sharma S, et al. Sleep Breath. 2022; published online June 18, 2022).

Establishing a team

Establishing a hospital sleep medicine program requires upfront investment and training and begins with educating key stakeholders. Support from executive administration and various departments including respiratory, sleep medicine, information technology, nursing, physicians, mid-level providers, and discharge planning is essential. Data are available, as outlined here, showing significant improvement in patient outcomes with a hospital sleep medicine program. This information can garner significant enthusiasm from leadership to support the initiation of a program. A more detailed account of key program elements, inpatient protocols, and technologies utilized is available in our recent review (Sharma S, Stansbury R. Chest. 2022;161[4]:1083-1091). Table 1 from this article is highlighted here and outlines the essential components (SEAT-COM) of our hospital sleep medicine model. While each component of this model is important, we stress the importance of care coordination, timely diagnostic testing, and treatment, as significant delays can lead to inadequate time for acclimatization and optimization of therapy. It is important to note that the practice of hospital sleep medicine does not supplant clinic-based approaches, but rather serves to facilitate and enhance outpatient diagnosis and treatment.

Table 1. Description of individual components of SEAT-COM protocol for hospital sleep medicine

Current questions

Data to date suggest a hospital sleep medicine program positively influences important clinical endpoints in hospitalized patients identified to be at risk for SDB. However, much of the published research is based on retrospective and prospective analysis of established clinical programs. Further, most studies have been completed at large, urban-based academic medical centers. Our group has recently completed a validation study in our local rural population, but larger multicenter trials involving more diverse communities and health systems are needed to better understand outcomes and further refine the optimal timing of screening and intervention for SDB in hospitalized patients (Stansbury, et al. Sleep Breath. 2022; published online January 20, 2022).

A common question that arises is the program’s impact regarding payment for rendered service in the context of Medicare’s prospective payment system. Given that the program focuses on screening for SDB and does not utilize formal testing for diagnosis, there is no additional cost for diagnostic tests or procedural codes. Thus, the diagnosis-related group is not impacted (Sharma S, Stansbury R. Chest. 2022;161[4]:1083-1091). Importantly, hospital sleep medicine has the potential for cost savings given the reduction in hospital readmissions and decreased adverse events during a patient’s hospital stay. The economics of the initial investment in a hospital sleep program versus potential savings from improved patient outcomes warrants evaluation.


SDB is a prevalent disorder with potential deleterious impacts on a patient’s health. Despite this, it is underrecognized and, thus, undertreated. Hospital sleep medicine is a growing model of care that may expand our capability for early diagnosis and intervention. Studies have demonstrated benefits to patients, particularly those with cardiopulmonary disease. However, additional studies are required to further validate hospital-based sleep medicine in more diverse populations and environments.

Dr. Del Prado Rico and Dr. Stansbury are with the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Health Science Center North, West Virginia University. Dr. Stansbury is also with the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh.

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