Obstructive sleep apnea continues to impact millions of American adults each year. As the number of adults struggling with OSA increases, the number of referring medical providers searching for dentists who can provide an effective treatment – such as oral appliance therapy – also increases.
Provided by a dentist trained in dental sleep medicine, oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment for patients with OSA. Dentists who provide this therapy work closely with a patient’s treating physician, as the physician is responsible for diagnosing OSA and recommending the appropriate treatment.
If the physician diagnoses the patient with OSA, they can refer the patient back to the dentist for oral appliance therapy. Dentists then manage fabricating and fitting the appliance, getting the appliance in the appropriate position, side effects, and ongoing follow-up care – communicating patient progress with their treating physician along the way.
As you can see, collaborating with referring medical providers is key to a successful dental sleep medicine practice.
As you build your DSM practice, you will make connections with referral sources. Nurturing these relationships is important to build trust and ensure that referrals continue to flow to your practice. Consistent communication will keep these relationships running smoothly. It is important to remember that referrals and communication between referring medical providers should flow in both directions and not be one-sided.
Here are 8 tips for communicating with referral medical providers:
- Clarify what pieces of information you need to proceed with treating the patient. At a minimum, this will include a written referral/letter of medical necessity and a copy of the sleep study.
- Ask how the physician prefers to receive communication and send reports by their preferred method (secure fax, email, EHR, etc).
- Try to schedule at least one direct contact with the referring provider to discuss the case. This can be via a telemedicine platform or a phone call.
- Use SOAP for your report writing format. SOAP stands for subjective (complaints & history), objective (testing & exam findings), assessment (diagnosis), and plan (treatment plan). (If this process is new to you, the AADSM Mastery Program covers additional information on SOAP notes.)
- Produce accurate and detailed documentation and narrative reports by including direct input from the patient and by making custom notes for each patient.
- Use common medical language to describe your findings, rather than strict dental terminology.
- Identify if a nurse care manager is part of the practice. If there is someone in this role, reaching out to this person can help to facilitate communication.
- Track and confirm completion of your documentation as well as receipt of documentation by the physician’s office.
If you’re a dentist ready to start providing oral appliance therapy for obstructive sleep apnea, attend the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine’s Mastery Program for additional tips and resources for success. This program provides standardized, unbiased education to dentists ready to take the next step. The next offering of Mastery Course 1 begins online in February 2022.
As a non-profit organization representing dentists in the field, the AADSM also provides various referral resources to members, including a protocol for physician communication which lists a series of letters to send to ensure the physician is well informed about the patient’s treatment plan. Introductory scripts, letter templates, fact sheets, and more are available for members to download and use in their practices.
By using these tools to aid in communication, you’ll position yourself as a go-to DSM resource for physicians looking to refer their patients. To learn more about the AADSM or oral appliance therapy for obstructive sleep apnea, visit aadsm.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Downing is the marketing assistant for the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine in Lisle, Illinois. She has worked in the communications field for over 20 years, in non-profit, government, small business, and healthcare settings. She’s written for CEOs and industry publications and is currently specializing in developing business content strategy for audio platforms and podcasting.