As we wind down and reflect back on a year that we will likely never forget, it is important to remember bright moments that brought out the best in us; that took courage, optimism, teamwork, resilience, and adaptability. Vaccination against COVID-19 appears to be on the horizon for most Americans, and we may see some normality return to our lives. However, it will be up to us to define this new norm moving forward. Going back to operating the way we used to will only set us up for failure as there will be more disruptions coming our way, whether it is another pandemic or through innovative disruption in the field of sleep medicine caused by technological advances such as artificial intelligence. Let us use the bright spots that we embraced and grew from this year to be our guiding north as we move into 2021 and beyond to tackle future challenges and convert them into opportunities. We can work through barriers as we did during this pandemic, with a willingness to be nimble and keeping our vision focused on our patients.

Being nimble and changing course

This year presented numerous opportunities for AASM leadership to be nimble and change course, and it resulted in decisions to bring two initiatives to a close. In 2014 the AASM established Welltrinsic as an independent corporation that would negotiate contracts for sleep services on behalf of a national network of board-certified sleep medicine physicians. In the following years, as rapid changes continued to occur in the health care system, Welltrinsic pivoted multiple times to find the best way to provide value for its network of members. Finally, the AASM board of directors decided earlier this year to dissolve Welltrinsic so that more energy could be redirected in support of the new AASM strategic plan in areas such as advocacy and public awareness.

In 2017 the AASM established the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep (AAHS) to advocate for patients. Recognizing that other patient advocacy groups are focused on specific sleep disorders, AAHS sought to unite patients and providers to improve the lives of people with all sleep disorders. In the three years since, as AAHS connected with the other patient advocacy organizations, we have received valuable feedback about the needs and visions of these dedicated groups. Ultimately, the board of directors of both AAHS and AASM decided in July to dissolve AAHS and focus on integrating the patient voice within the AASM. We’ve already added patient representatives to our Public Awareness Advisory Committee, and we’re now developing a plan for how the AASM can better serve and empower the other patient advocacy organizations.  Going forward, we will continue to focus on being adaptable and patient-centered — two of our core values — as we optimize our strategies to advance the sleep field. Sometimes, to advance you must be willing to disrupt yourself.

Adapting to innovative disruption

Innovative disruption in the field of medicine is already happening at a rapid pace. In fact, many of our patients have already embraced technological advances and will only be asking for more. Survey data shows that nearly 80% of patients prefer to see their primary care physician (PCP) virtually, and 1 in 4 are willing to switch to a PCP who offers telehealth. It will not be too far in the future that most of our patients will demand to have their sleep disorders diagnosed and managed at home at their own convenience. As we modify our practice patterns to accommodate the needs of our patients in the realm of innovative disruption, it is our responsibility to address sleep-related health care disparities and affordability as well to benefit our patients. We have the opportunity to show the way for the other disciplines of medicine, and 2021 will be the year to pivot, embrace, and even lead with the disruptions coming our way. To help us consider the changes that are ahead, the AASM is hosting our second Sleep Medicine Disruptors course March 12-13. Led by course Chair Azizi Seixas, PhD, this virtual event will include eye-opening presentations and discussions that will challenge you to reimagine sleep care. Because we believe this may be the most important course of the year for sleep medicine clinicians, we will be providing FREE registration for all AASM members. Please mark your calendar now and plan to join us.

Happy Holidays

This holiday season is also important to take time to recuperate and re-energize for our own well-being and health, which in turn will benefit our friends and family, patients, and colleagues.  Let us anticipate a better year in 2021 knowing very well that we have the ability to handle any wrenches thrown our way. Though this year was markedly different, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as the president of the AASM.  I wish you all a Happy Holiday season and a Happy New Year!

Kannan Ramar, MD