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Suzanne Shugg: Telemedicine Solutions to Sleep Disorders in Asia

by Steve Stine

How did you sleep last night? It’s a simple question that should admit of a simple answer. Sleep, after all, is a relatively uncomplicated act. Night falls and you brush your teeth. You lie down, turn off the light, your breathing deepens and the next thing you know you’re out.

If only things were that simple. Every week, it seems, there’s a new study proving how sleep is necessary. Without sleep, scientists say, you’re prone to gaining weight, feeling sad and losing your sex drive.

The problem is we’re not getting enough of it. Some estimates put the incidence of severe sleep apnea in the western world as high as two percent for women and four percent for men. That’s millions of people tossing and turning. New research suggests the problem may be even worse in Asia, and specifically in China where due to a confluence of health, environment and anatomical issues, people are starved for sleep with a dire shortage of resources to address the issue.

To help us get an handle on this, this episode we reached out to Dr. Suzanne Shugg, Professor of Adult Medicine at Rutgers University in New Jersey and co-founder of Teleplus Healthcare, a company that is focusing specifically on improving the sleep situation, targeting patients in China and Taiwan specifically.

As Dr. Shugg points out, in developing markets where resources are limited and physicians are focused on the two extreme ends of the medical spectrum – primary and chronic care – many underlying causes associated with sleep, psychology or fitness sometimes fall by the wayside.  For millions of Asians, the advent of industrialization, urbanization, financial and work stress and bad technology habits are conspiring to leave people sleepless. Add to this some of the anatomical complexities associated with being ethnically Chinese, and you can see just how severe the sleep apnea issue in Asia could become.

Enter Dr. Shugg and her associates, who are in the process of leveraging digital platforms and testing technologies that patients can use at home to test their own sleeping habits. It’s not a matter of the digital disrupting the ways in which things have always been done. It’s a case of the digital finally getting at the outcomes we would have wanted all along. Sleep is the perfect of example of what is possible in terms of preventative healthcare in the digital age.

Thanks for listening.