Dr. Timothy Wilt of the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System and University of Minnesota School of Medicine took part in this study to determine if primary care providers who became trained in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders could treat sleep apnea patients, as well as specialists, do. The data they acquired suggested that this could, in fact, be the case for some patients in the future.
The study’s participants that were treated by primary care physicians yielded very similar results regarding symptom relief and adherence to prescribed treatments. Quality of life was also reported to be equal, all of which are very promising.
When comparing their diagnoses, sleep apnea specialists and primary care providers seemed to agree on the diagnosis itself, as well as the severity of the patient’s disorders, after conducting another, smaller study.
However, researchers concluded that they need to conduct additional studies before comfortably allowing primary care providers to take over for specialists entirely. Given that the primary care providers who participated in the study still did have extensive training in sleep medicine, it’s uncertain that a primary care provider without this training would be able to perform similarly. If the primary care provider does not, it could raise other potential issues to be examined at a later time in further studies.
The studies reviewed were limited in their scope, as well, as they featured obese, middle-aged males with moderate-to-severe sleep apnea. Until further studies can be conducted, there can be no way to know if other demographics would also see the same results. The results could be different for example, women, or elderly patients, or patients with more complex cases, such as those coupled with other chronic illnesses.
It is still promising, though, that the existing results do suggest that primary care physicians may one day be able to accurately diagnose sleep apnea cases. This case study sets essential precedence in the medical community, and researchers plan to continue with this momentum to provide more information to practitioners and patients alike.
At this moment in time, as the research is still in its infancy, anyone suffering from sleep apnea is advised to consult a specialist who practices sleep medicine. Untreated sleep apnea can cause daytime sleepiness, heart attacks, and heart failure, and a general decrease in quality of life, so it is best to seek medical attention from trained professionals rather than self-diagnose or be treated by a primary care physician.