Development of a Sleep Telementorship Program for Rural Department of Veterans Affairs Primary Care Providers: Sleep Veterans Affairs Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes

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RATIONALE: Primary care providers (PCPs) frequently encounter sleep complaints, especially in regions with limited specialty care access.

OBJECTIVES: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (VA-ECHO) program (based on Project ECHO) has successfully provided rural PCP education in subspecialty areas, including hepatitis C. We describe the feasibility of an ECHO program for sleep medicine.

METHODS: ECHO creates a virtual learning community through video-teleconferencing, combining didactics with individualized clinical case review. We invited multidisciplinary providers to attend up to 10 stand-alone, 1-hour sessions. Invitees completed a needs assessment, which guided curriculum development. After program completion, we examined participant characteristics and self-reported changes in practice and comfort with managing sleep complaints. We surveyed participation barriers among invitees with low/no attendance.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Of the 39 program participants, 38% worked in rural healthcare. Participants included nurse practitioners (26%), registered nurses (21%), and physicians (15%). Seventeen (44%) completed the summative program evaluation. Respondents anticipated practice change from the program, especially in patient education about sleep disorders (93% of respondents). Respondents reported improved comfort managing sleep complaints, especially sleep-disordered breathing, insomnia, and sleep in post-traumatic stress disorder (80% of respondents each). A follow-up survey of program invitees who attended zero to two sessions reported scheduling conflicts (62%) and lack of protected time (52%) as major participation barriers.

CONCLUSIONS: Participants in a pilot sleep medicine VA-ECHO program report practice change and increased comfort managing common sleep complaints. Future work is needed to identify objective measures of return on investment and address participation barriers.