Patients who already are having trouble sleeping may find it very difficult to sleep in a strange place, let alone one where they know they are being observed. This often leads to the well-known phenomena among sleep professionals called the First Night Effect. First Night Effect is where patients can experience considerable fear and anxiety when they are expected to sleep in a clinical environment. At the very least, First Night Effect can impede the onset of a normal sleep pattern. In its most severe cases, more often seen in children than adults, it can seriously compromise sleep to the point that an unscoreable study could be the result.
First Night Effect has proven to be a great challenge in the design and operations of sleep centers. Architects who have been working closely with Sleep Lab operators and sleep medicine practitioners have taken a page from hotel room design in order to increase patient comfort. Sleep lab bedrooms have been designed to be less clinical and look and feel more like the most comfortable of guest rooms, including amenities such as private bathrooms. High quality mattresses and luxury linens are often used. Many have showers so that patients can get up, follow their morning routines and go to work directly from the study. Some sleep rooms even have been designed with private balconies or patios.
As First Night Effect tends to be a more severe problem with children, being as close as possible to the home sleeping environment is particularly important when testing young pediatric patients. A sleep lab that works with children needs to be particularly sensitive to the emotional difficulty associated with sleep in a foreign place. Close attention needs to be taken to prevent or eliminate failed diagnostics due to First Night artifacts in testing. A pediatric sleep room must be soothing and inviting in its decor. Murals, and/or wall hangings should be used to reduce as much as possible the clinical feel of the room.
Of course you should make accommodations for a parent or guardian to sleep with the child in the room, or very nearby. Other ways to make young patients feel more at home and comfortable with the test include:
Of course one additional factor to making sure that the experience your patients have at your lab is a good one, is ensuring they do not have to spend anymore nights away from home than is absolutely necessary. One of the best ways to do that is to ensure that their tests are done right the first time, and all data is easily available to all parties involved with treatment and diagnosis.
Prepare an “exit” checklist of things your technicians do and say so that the patient leaves with a smile. Creating that positive exit experience will help spread the word about how friendly your practice is, which can help spur referrals.
Your checklist can also have instructions for the technician to make sure that all of the data collected is entered into your sleep management system quickly. Patients want their results quickly. So, if you use an online tool (like SLaM for instance) to manage your practice, you reduce the chance of delays in analyzing the data and empower your sleep center to access information on demand. And building a reputation of responsiveness to patients and referring physicians will definitely be a boon to your business!