Telehealth for Sleep Issues

Access to professional help for your sleep issues, including insomnia and sleep apnea, is increasingly available, accessible, and affordable. You can talk to general practitioners, sleep practitioners, mental health practitioners, and nutrition experts through telehealth. They can work with you on getting a better night’s sleep wherever you are.

There has been a substantial shift to digital and remote services in some clinics, increasing the proportion of telehealth visits from 10% before the COVID-19 pandemic to more than 90% during the pandemic. Telehealth isn’t a tool we’re going to put away post-pandemic either. It gives you the opportunity to access health care that has always been reserved for certain locations only.

Ask your doctor about their telehealth services. If they don’t offer these services, search the web for providers who do and begin reaching out about pricing, coverage, and appointment times. You can also ask your provider for a referral.

Video call with doctor

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When to Use Telehealth for Sleep Issues

You can use telehealth services to discuss your symptoms and concerns, update your provider about new or worsening sleep issues, and talk to specialists about treatment options and lifestyle changes that can help.

Studies have shown that telehealth is effective for diagnosing and managing sleep issues, including obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and sleep disorders in children.

Telehealth can help in the following scenarios:

  • You don’t feel rested after waking up.
  • You can’t fall asleep at night.
  • You have frequent nightmares.
  • You can’t seem to stay asleep.
  • You have new or worsening symptoms of sleep apnea.
  • A medical condition like arthritis or fibromyalgia is disturbing your sleep.
  • A life change or grief is disrupting your sleep.
  • You have heard about sleeping pills and wonder if they would work for you.
  • You want to know if there are dietary changes that may help, including vitamins and if you need them.
  • You’re wondering if there is such a thing as a prescription-strength melatonin and if it’s safe to take daily.
  • A child, elder, or dependent in your household is having sleeping problems.
  • You want to be prescreened for approval for an at-home sleep study.
  • You want to know if insurance will cover at-home sleep assistance devices.

You May Need to Be Seen in Person If…

There are some circumstances that still require in-person visits, including: 

  • You need blood tests to get a better picture of what is causing your sleep issues (initial diagnostic tests) and how treatment is working (follow-up tests).
  • If your sleep problems are being caused or worsened by mental health issues, you and your doctor may decide to schedule an in-person check-in every so often.
  • If you do not have access to a clear video or stable Internet connection to conduct a video call, you may be better off seeing the professional in person. 

Benefits and Challenges

The benefits of telehealth for sleep issues include:

  • Increased appointment access: Phone or video calls with your sleep specialist provide help to patients who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to see a sleep expert. Populations that may benefit from telehealth services include the elderly, children, low-income communities, immunocompromised patients, those with physical or mental limitations, and people who lack a safe way of traveling to or from medical appointments.
  • Fewer scheduling difficulties: Virtual care means less commuting time, less traveling in bad weather conditions, taking less time off work or making up time later, and fewer child and pet care needs. For someone struggling with sleep issues who may fall asleep spontaneously, reducing scheduling and organizational barriers to service can help keep them and others safe. 
  • Quicker services: Telehealth also shortens wait times, meaning you get care more quickly. This is especially important in sleep medicine because there are not that many specialists in the workforce.

Challenges

Any new technology comes with its own set of challenges. Some you may encounter in telehealth include:

  • Technology limitations: Virtual visits are not possible for every patient. Those who don’t have access to the Internet or a device with camera capabilities and people who may not feel comfortable with technology may run into many difficulties during their virtual appointment.
  • Missing in-person clues: Experts have expressed concern that virtual visits could increase medical error, where the doctor may miss a clue that would have been detected in person. Information sharing may also be somewhat sabotaged by the patient being home, especially for those suffering from domestic violence.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Sleep

Take some time to prepare for your telehealth appointment, particularly if you are new to technology. It can be easy to get distracted during the call and forget to mention symptoms or ask questions. Writing them down beforehand can help prevent that.

Prepare for your telehealth appointment by:

  • Figuring out what your goal for the appointment is
  • Asking the provider what to expect, like whether it’ll be a phone or video call
  • Checking with your insurance about coverage
  • Filling out the necessary forms and intake questionnaires
  • Checking that you have the necessary equipment (such as access to a cell phone, tablet, or computer) and that it is charged before the appointment
  • Practicing using an unfamiliar calling platform
  • Making a detailed list of sleep-related symptoms, including how long you’ve had them and how severely they’re affecting your daytime functioning
  • Writing down any questions you have about what you can do, medications and side effects, referrals for specialists, and cost of care
  • Jotting down a quick run-through of your average evening and morning routine
  • Creating a cheat sheet of any current medications (and daily doses), vitamins and other supplements, and any recreational substance use

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Sleep Issues?

Telehealth is becoming more affordable. Rates are being adjusted as providers create a separate rate for telehealth services and determine how to price accordingly. For example, a routine primary care visit (20- to 30-minute visit with a physician) in Louisiana is $62.65 for an in-person visit compared with $33.95 for a telehealth visit.

What Happens During the Visit

During your appointment, your healthcare provider may ask:

  • What your main concern is or what is bothering you the most
  • What your bedroom or sleeping conditions are, your main sleeping position, and whether you co-sleep with a partner, child, or pet
  • How your sleep issues are affecting your work or school and relationships
  • What you are comfortable with in terms of next steps

If you need bloodwork or the professional recommends an at-home sleep test that requires them sending you equipment, you will need to make a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss your results, diagnosis, and what can be done.

If you are prescribed medication or advised about a natural alternative (such as melatonin or prescription sleeping pills), you will check in with your provider after a set period of time to see how the treatment is working. These follow-ups can typically be done via telehealth.

A Word From Verywell

You can make the most of telehealth by getting never-before-available access to care with limited specialists. You can also benefit from new insurance coverage for these services.

You may still need to see a professional in person, but in most cases you can get the guidance and care you need virtually. 

If you have concerns, you’re not alone. The transition to digital health care comes with many questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider for answers.

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Article Sources
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