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SHHHHH!!! The silent cost of untreated sleep apnea

untreated sleep apnea

CHRIS TANKE
Transportation Practice Leader

We spend a third of our lives asleep. Dysfunctions in this basic state cause quality of life to decline, waking performance to falter, and overall health to diminish.  

Over 18 million Americans have sleep apnea.  In addition to this, 30% of the general population reports symptoms of sleep disruption, and over 50% of primary care patients have sleep complaints. In spite of how common sleep disorders are, however, they are often left untreated by physicians.

The impact of untreated sleep apnea on your company

Untreated sleep apnea can be a silent financial drain on your company.  This drain is most obvious when a tired or drowsy employee has a crash or injury.  Untreated sleep apnea is a major risk factor for injury at factory and construction work sites -- people with sleep apnea have 2-3 times as many car accidents, and 5-7 times the risk for multiple accidents.

The more subtle cost of untreated sleep apnea is a potentially big drain on your employee benefit plan.  Doctors have established that many health conditions either develop or worsen as a result of sleep apnea, including  high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and heart arrhythmias, diabetes, obesity, asthma, chronic headaches and depression.

The additional healthcare costs of untreated sleep apnea have been addressed in several studies. According to one study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine:

  • Sleep apnea patients had an average 226% increase in health care use 1 year before evaluation, more hospital days, more drug use, and more visits to ER. 
  • In 1999, average annual medical costs were $2720 greater per patient before diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea.
  • In the 10 years leading up to a sleep apnea diagnosis, patient costs were double the 10-year average of age-matched controls. 
  • For patients with sleep apnea, costs rose steadily every year before their diagnosis. Initial data suggests that after diagnosis, yearly claims were halved.
  • The severity of the obstructive sleep apnea correlated directly to total annual health care spend.

What can your company do to reduce the cost of untreated sleep apnea?

Best practice would say to begin with education of your employees and their families.  With education, employees can self identify with certain factors making a person at higher risk to develop sleep apnea such as being overweight, a large neck size, or smoking.  In fact, there are sleep care providers that will come out to your company and screen employees for sleep apnea free of charge. At-home testing devices have now made it so an employee at risk can be diagnosed cost effectively at home while sleeping in their own bed.

Don’t be asleep at the wheel and let the silent costs of untreated sleep apnea drain your company!

Topics: Construction Transportation Manufacturing