New Study Finds Massive Cost of Undiagnosed and Untreated Sleep Apnea
A new report has discovered the hidden cost of undiagnosed and untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and it is concerning. Only 20% of Americans with OSA are properly diagnosed, roughly 5.9 million of the 29.4 million with OSA. That means nearly 23.5 million Americans with OSA are undiagnosed and remain untreated leading to severe health problems which results in massive economic costs – over $149 billion according to a recent study by Frost & Sullivan commissioned by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

The study found that diagnosed OSA cost $12.4 billion in 2015 or $2,105 per person. This figure includes diagnosis/testing/follow-up appointments, non-surgical remedies (like CPAP and oral devices), and surgical treatments. However, undiagnosed OSA cost the American economy $149.6 billion or $6,366 per person. This figure includes workplace accidents, lost productivity, motor vehicle accidents, and comorbid diseases. The majority of the comorbid diseases include hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

According to the Frost & Sullivan report, the reason for OSA going undertreated so often is because of the 5.9 million who are diagnosed only about 60% of those will remain compliant with their treatment. This is generally because of the uncomfortability and inconvenience of CPAP devices. While they are properly diagnosed with OSA, they are not properly treated, resulting in similar consequences as if they had never been diagnosed at all.

Attributes associated with making one more vulnerable to OSA include being older, male, a minority race, have a high body mass index, large neck circumference, craniofacial abnormalities, are menopausal, and those with health risks such as smoking and alcohol use.

The loss of productivity due to OSA is so large that employers like AAA Foundation, Google, and the Huffington Post are realizing the benefits of diagnosing and treating OSA to help offset the costs of undiagnosed OSA. According to a Frost & Sullivan survey of 506 U.S. patients actively treating their OSA, there was a reported 40% decline in workplace absences and 17.3% increase in productivity after OSA treatment was initiated.

“Society undervalues sleep, instead valuing and lauding people that do not prioritize sleep because of a perception that they are more serious in their careers. Sleep apnea is associated with increased mortality, but it does not end up on anyone’s death certificate and thus the urgency to address the problem is not felt,” says Dr. Nathaniel Watson about OSA and the value of a good night’s sleep. Dr. Watson is the current AASM president, co-director of the University of Washington Sleep Center and director of the Harborview Medical Center Sleep Clinic.

According to the study, the best way to decrease this massive toll on the US Economy is to raise general awareness about OSA, increasing primary physician care education about OSA, and properly diagnosing and treating OSA. Patients should actively seek out advice from medical professionals about their OSA risk level as well as encouraging their friends and family to be diagnosed.

While this report focuses mostly on the economic cost of untreated OSA, it also describes some of the health threats associated with the condition. We are happy to highlight this report and hope that it will encourage OSA sufferers to seek treatment.