Most Americans Barely Understand Sleep Apnea

Survey respondents think they know what sleep apnea is, but majority aren’t aware of interconnected health risks, don’t trust wearable sleep trackers, and have specific concerns about sleep testing.

Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It defines a cognitive bias in which people who possess only a little information on a subject overestimate their understanding of it — and it’s looking like the Dunning-Kruger effect is a fitting description for most Americans’ grasp of obstructive sleep apnea, according to a new study.

According to a survey commissioned by Itamar Medical Ltd., which makes technology and devices related to the care of sleep-disordered breathing, 89 percent of respondents believe they know what sleep apnea is, yet deeper analysis of the data collected suggests that their understanding is superficial.

In fact, many of the respondents were uninformed of the wider implications and significance of the disorder and not aware of the availability of safe, home-based diagnostic options, as well as a distrust of the data collected via commercially available wearable devices.

Key findings showed the lack of seriousness or awareness some survey-takers had about sleep apnea in general:

  • 33 percent of respondents said they were unaware that they could significantly reduce the health risks associated with CVD, diabetes, and stroke by treating sleep apnea.
  • 25 percent said that they were either unaware that snoring could be a sign of a more serious health issue or did not believe it to be true. 
  • 23 percent suggested that they would think twice before seeking medical help for a sleep problem, with 28 percent stating outright that they would not seek medical care at all. 

Other findings showed their lack of understanding when it came to sleep diagnostics, as well as their preferences:

  • 24 percent of respondents did not know of the existence of home sleep testing options, despite COVID-19 prioritizing the need for home-based diagnostics.
  • 33 percent of respondents indicated having used a wearable device or an app to track or monitor their sleep, and of that percentile, only 41 percent took the results seriously enough to seek a medical evaluation or treatment.
  • 56 percent stated that if prescribed or required, they would choose a home-based testing solution, as opposed to an in-lab test. 
  • The top three concerns respondents expressed as reasons to not take a sleep test were in regard to cost (27.5 percent), inconvenience (20 percent), and fear of infection given the pandemic (16 percent). 

“While unfortunately not all that surprising, the results of the survey exemplify the need to educate and spread awareness of the serious and life-threatening implications of undiagnosed sleep apnea,” said Gilad Glick, CEO of Itamar Medical. “At Itamar Medical, we are dedicated to bringing about this awareness and providing home-based, easy-to-use, eligible for reimbursement, and non-invasive solutions to address it.

“An alarming 51 percent of people still indicate that they would not take a sleep test or seek help for a sleep disorder,” he added. “We need to address this issue and educate people that there are safe and viable solutions that can be conducted in the comfort of one’s home.” 

The survey, conducted in November 2020, was jointly carried out with Google Consumer Surveys based on a representative sample of more than 1,000 respondents from the United States, aged 18 to 65 and older. 

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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