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Sleep with Virtual Ease

The beginning of the new school year means the start of new sleep struggles for many families.

Bad sleep habits such as a lack of a consistent bedtime and sleeping in later than normal during the summer break results in cranky, tired children and overwhelmed parents. Many families manage to get their sleep schedule under control fairly quickly but for those who are struggling with sleep concerns Gillette Children’s is here to help.  

The award-winning sleep medicine specialists at Gillette are encouraging families to use a relatively new tool to help with sleep concerns. The Gillette Virtual Care program allows families to have a video appointment from the comfort of home. During the virtual visits, patients and health care providers use smartphones, tablets, or a computer so they can see, hear and talk to one another similar to an in-person appointment.

Virtual care is a convenient, safe option

“Virtual care is a convenient, safe option for families,” says Gillette sleep medicine specialist, John Garcia, MD. Garcia knows families might be reluctant to seek care for sleep issues due to COVID-19. “These virtual appointments are secure and, in a way, it’s a return to simpler days when a provider would make a house call.”

The virtual care appointments at Gillette provide many benefits for families. “It decreases transportation stress,” Garcia suggests. “It saves families money—for gas and the expense of child-care for siblings. It’s also better for the environment and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.”

Families who have had a virtual care appointment report a high satisfaction rate.

Gillette sleep medicine specialist, John Garcia, the skyway.

“Virtual care is a convenient, safe option for families,” says Gillette sleep medicine specialist, John Garcia, MD. 

When you see it, you can help

Garcia adds the virtual care appointments can provide new information about the patient’s experience at home and gives him the opportunity to share new ideas with families on how to improve sleep.

Garcia had a recent appointment with the family of a 7-year-old girl who has scoliosis and other health issues. “This child was not doing well and was clearly not getting her proper rest,” Garcia says.

The family is originally from Somalia and uses an interpreter during their appointments. The girl uses a wheelchair and because the family has transportation issues it can make it difficult to come to Gillette.

“The mother was very happy when I mentioned the idea of a virtual appointment,” Garcia recalls. “We had the interpreter online and this mother felt very comfortable because she was at home and did not have the stress of transporting her child.”

During the virtual visit Garcia noticed the child was scrunched up in bed and her position aggravated her already shallow breathing. “I simply could not have observed this in the clinic or even the sleep lab,” Garcia says.

The virtual visit also allowed Garcia to see how the mother was having issues with the child’s sleep mask. “Families really can’t be expected to bring all this sleep equipment to an in-clinic appointment,” Garcia says. “I could see how this caring mother was struggling with the sleep equipment. With the interpreter’s assistance I could help this mother use the technology better. Plus, because I could see how the child was scrunched in bed, I suggested she would benefit from using a pillow wedge. This triangular pillow would help to improve the child’s posture and allow her chest to expand more fully.”

Improved access to expert care

Gillette virtual care program manager, David Dressler, says the expansion of the virtual care presence throughout the organization helps improve the overall digital experience for patients. He says this is especially true for families living in greater Minnesota and rural areas.

“We know many families travel from long distances so their child can have time with a Gillette expert,” Dressler says. “Now with virtual care we hope we can make it easier for families, especially living in rural areas, to have access to our specialists.”

Garcia and Dressler know families who have driven hours for a Gillette medical appointment. “Now with virtual care the transportation time for an appointment can be zero,” Dressler says.

In addition to virtual sleep medicine appointments, Gillette also offers virtual Pediatric Expert Consults and rehabilitation therapies.

Virtual care is also helping Gillette with its commitment to make sure new and existing patients continue to have access to care even during COVID-19 safety concerns. A delay in a diagnosis or in physical, occupational or speech therapy could negatively affect a patient’s outcome and overall health.  

Families interested in virtual care can talk with a Gillette patient access specialist who will help them through the process. “Our patient access staff will guide a family through the insurance questions, scheduling requests and answer questions,” Dressler says. “Referring providers who know a patient should be seen at Gillette, but unsure by who can reach out and request a virtual pediatric expert consult. We can usually schedule a virtual consultation with a family within two days.”

Virtual care appointments are an option for people who might not have strong internet access at home. “Gillette has brick and mortar clinics throughout Minnesota,” Dressler says “We can have a Gillette specialist from our main location in the Twin Cities connect with a patient family in one of our clinics. This allows the family to drive just a short distance and to have our helpful clinic staff assist during the virtual appointments. It really is a wonderful hybrid of care.”

A sleep study room at Gillette.

A virtual care appointment helps a family have a sleep medicine appointment from the comfort of home and not at the clinic. 

A reason to get up in the morning

Garcia and Dressler both say they’re proud to work for an organization that keeps innovating to help patients. “One of the best parts of my job at Gillette,” Dressler says, “is the opportunity to work with forward thinking people who want to make a positive impact on the community.”

Garcia agrees and adds, “Parents will come in to see me and often tell me they are running out of hope. I reassure them there IS hope. This is how I spend every day. It’s more than my job. It’s my vocation. Providing relief for families is why I get up in the morning.”

Garcia wants families to know the Gillette sleep technologists are incredibly dedicated and specially trained to help children with all kinds of medical needs. “These sleep technologists are really unsung heroes,” Garcia says. “They literally stay up all night to ensure our children get the very best diagnosis and care.”

Specific help for special concerns

The sleep medicine program at Gillette is one of the only programs in the nation specifically designed for people who have disabilities or other complex health conditions. The sleep health specialists at Gillette work closely with patients and families to properly diagnose and treat sleep disorders.

Virtual care appointments are currently available to new or existing patients in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota. Please call our patient appointment line at 651-290-8707 to determine if virtual care is appropriate for your appointment needs.