Aroostook County – Telemedicine is a great tool that allows for specialty services to expand into rural areas, but sometimes the reverse is true and a quality service in a rural area can be expanded into a more populated area. That is just the case of what happened in March with TAMC’s Sleep Medicine practice.
TAMC’s Sleep Medicine practice has been in operation since 1998. The practice, located at A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital in Presque Isle, includes a four-bed sleep disorders center that is fully accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The well-established sleep medicine program is headed by Dr. David Weed, who is board certified in sleep medicine, internal medicine and pulmonary medicine. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, as well as the American College of Chest Physicians. His team is rounded out by George Montee, PA-C and Carrissa Hankins, FNP-C.
The practice has grown over the years to stretch across The County and include oversight of clinical sites in both Houlton and Fort Kent. On March 1, thanks to the power of telemedicine, a new partnership went live and TAMC’s Sleep Medicine practice now is providing oversight of the sleep lab at Inland Hospital in Waterville as well.
“Our job is to practice the highest quality of medicine possible and to promote what we do,” explains Dr. Weed. “It really is a win-win situation for Inland and their patients as well as for TAMC. Providers will get their patients seen by experts in the field, while reaching a greater part of the population will improve the financial stability of our practice at TAMC.”
Under the new arrangement, more patients now have access to specialty care in a timely way without having to travel an extensive distance. They will have better healthcare at a lower cost, according to Weed. This expansion into a new market also allows TAMC’s Sleep Medicine practice to access more patients more quickly.
“Telemedicine is an excellent tool for evaluating primarily cognitive disorders,” says Dr. Weed. “Sleep disorders are primarily diagnosed by history with very little needed in the way of a physical examination. This makes it an excellent specialty to utilize telemedicine.”
With the arrangement with Inland Hospital, TAMC providers will meet with patients virtually as requested by their primary care provider. For those who have a sleep study performed at the Sleep Diagnostic Center at Inland, Weed will read and interpret the results, providing a report back to the patient’s primary care provider, usually within 24-72 hours. The results will be reviewed with the patient either by the patient’s PCP or with one of the TAMC providers if the PCP requests it.
The sleep lab at Inland, as the one at Houlton Regional Hospital, is an “open” lab, meaning that primary care providers can directly book appointments for their patients without preliminary or follow up appointments with TAMC providers. “We will see the patients they need us to see,” explains Dr. Weed. However, the team at TAMC will “read” the sleep studies for all patients, evaluating and interpreting electronic test results taken by state-of-the-art monitoring equipment. After interpretation of the studies, recommendation are generated and provided to the PCP and patient.
The sleep labs at TAMC and Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent are considered “closed” labs, meaning providers refer patients to TAMC sleep medicine providers for evaluation before they are considered for an overnight sleep study. They also handle follow up appointments regarding a patient’s sleep disorder. A provider from TAMC’s Sleep Medicine practice travels to Fort Kent one day each week to provide this service for patients closer to their home.
“Basically, we work to provide the right fit as determined by the hospitals and the providers in their service area,” says Dr. Weed. “We reach out so that they know what we can do for them. There are about a dozen sleep medicine labs in Maine, and we now provide oversight to four of them. It is truly gratifying to help so many patients.”
TAMC sleep medicine providers are working with their colleagues from Inland, HRH and NMMC to focus on sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and other conditions with a goal of tailoring treatment to help each client get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep studies can have an even greater impact for some. “Not only are we evaluating and treating all major sleep disorders, but a sleep study may also pick up on other health issues that they then report back to the patient’s primary care provider for follow-up,” explains Dr. Weed.
“For years we have promoted healthy eating and exercise, and a third very important pillar of health is adequate sleep,” says Dr. Weed.
Sleep disorders are relatively common. Fifteen to twenty percent of people may suffer with excessive daytime sleepiness, and many do not know the cause. Fortunately, many treatment options are available for people who suffer from a sleep disorder, but first the cause of the issue impacting a person’s sleep needs to be determined.
Individuals who have sleep concerns regarding themselves or a loved one are encouraged to take the first step by making an appointment with their primary care provider.