UA receives $1.4 million grant for a peer-support program to help sleep apnea patients

University of Arizona College of Medicine - Tucson Professor Sairam Parthasarathy, MD, has been awarded nearly $1.4 million for a peer-support program for sleep apnea patients.

The funding -- from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute -- will be used by Dr. Parthasarathy and his research team to implement the findings of a previous research project in which peers were trained to help patients starting treatment for sleep apnea.

The program will be made available to patients at Banner - University Medicine clinics in Tucson and later will be expanded to 11 centers in six states within the Banner Health system, in which more than 11,000 sleep studies are conducted and 9,000 patients are seen annually for sleep disorders.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a health condition in which the muscles of the throat relax during sleep, causing reversible and momentary episodes of obstruction of the throat accompanied by loud snoring with sleep interruption and a drop in blood oxygen levels. The condition affects as much as 12% of the U.S. population and, of those who have sleep apnea, nearly 50% are not adherent to the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment. Poor CPAP adherence is associated with increased risk for fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes. In addition, adherence to CPAP therapy has been associated with as much as a threefold reduction in fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events.

Our biggest barrier to treating sleep apnea is helping individuals use a CPAP machine. We are creating a therapy program that trains 'peer buddies' to educate and support new CPAP patients on how to use a CPAP machine."

Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, director of the UA Health Sciences Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences and medical director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Banner - University Medical Center Tucson

Others involved with the project are Stuart F. Quan, MD, professor emeritus at the UA and the Gerald E. McGinnis Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Sandipan Bhattacharjee, PhD, assistant professor, pharmacy practice and science, in the UA College of Pharmacy; and consultants Jerry Krishnan, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and public health and associate vice chancellor for population health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Adam Amdur of the American Sleep Apnea Association, a patient advocacy group.

"Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder condition that affects 1 in 10 people in this country with major health consequences when left untreated," said UA President Robert C. Robbins, MD. "We are leaders in the study of sleep and its long-term impact on our overall health and recovery. Dr. Parthasarathy and his team of researchers developed an innovative solution to a health-care problem with major implications."

"We are proud to play a part in Dr. Parthasarathy's important research in Tucson and in other Banner Health sleep centers and clinics," said Chad Whelan, MD, chief executive officer of Banner - University Medicine Tucson. "Translating the clinical research of UA physician-scientists into positive patient outcomes is exactly the sort of synergy we hoped to create in our unique partnership with the University of Arizona."

"This project was selected for PCORI funding not only for its scientific merit and commitment to engaging patients and other health-care stakeholders in a major study conducted in real-world settings, but also for its potential to answer an important question about the effective treatment of sleep apnea and to fill a crucial evidence gap," said Joe Selby, MD, MPH, executive director of PCORI. "We look forward to following the study's progress and working with the University of Arizona to share its results."

Dr. Parthasarathy's study was selected for funding through PCORI's dissemination and implementation portfolio, in which funding is awarded to projects to increase awareness and promote the use of PCORI research findings to improve health-care practices and health outcomes. The findings that will be implemented resulted from a research project titled, "Does a Peer Support Program Improve Satisfaction with Treatment among Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea?"

Putting evidence to work

It often takes years for new evidence from clinical research to influence health care, according to PCORI. Many times, these findings never reach patients and families who could benefit from the information. PCORI offers awards that support adapting evidence for specific contexts, incorporating that evidence to inform decisions, and integrating evidence into work flows or other processes in a sustainable way. PCORI-funded research teams can propose projects to bring findings from their completed studies into practice in real-world settings.

The UA study was selected through a highly competitive review process in which patients, caregivers and other stakeholders joined scientists to evaluate the proposals.

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