Understanding the clinical management of obstructive sleep apnoea in tetraplegia: A qualitative study using the theoretical domains framework

Marnie Graco, David J. Berlowitz, Sally E. Green

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Clinical practice guidelines recommend further testing for people with tetraplegia and signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), followed by treatment with positive airway pressure therapy. Little is known about how clinicians manage OSA in tetraplegia. The theoretical domains framework (TDF) is commonly used to identify determinants of clinical behaviours. This study aimed to describe OSA management practices in tetraplegia, and to explore factors influencing clinical practice. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 specialist doctors managing people with tetraplegia from spinal units in Europe, UK, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Interviews were audiotaped for verbatim transcription. OSA management was divided into screening, diagnosis and treatment components for inpatient and outpatient services, allowing common practices to be categorised. Data were thematically coded to the 12 constructs of the TDF. Common beliefs were identified and comparisons were made between participants reporting different practices. Results: Routine screening for OSA signs and symptoms was reported by 10 (50%) doctors in inpatient settings and eight (40%) in outpatient clinics. Doctors commonly referred to sleep specialists for OSA diagnosis (9/20 in inpatients; 16/20 in outpatients), and treatment (12/20, 17/20). Three doctors reported their three spinal units were managing non-complicated OSA internally, without referral to sleep specialists. Ten belief statements representing six domains of the TDF were generated about screening. Lack of time and support staff (Environmental context and resources) and no prompts to screen for OSA (Memory, attention and decision processes) were commonly identified barriers to routine screening. Ten belief statements representing six TDF domains were generated for diagnosis and treatment behaviours. Common barriers to independent management practices were lack of skills (Skills), low confidence (Beliefs about capabilities), and the belief that OSA management was outside their scope of practice (Social/Professional role and identity). The three units independently managing OSA were well resourced with multidisciplinary involvement (Environmental context and resources), had 'clinical champions' to lead the program (Social influences). Conclusion: Clinical management of OSA in tetraplegia is highly varied. Several influences on OSA management within spinal units have been identified, facilitating the development of future interventions aiming to improve clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number405
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2019


  • Qualitative research
  • Semi-structured interviews
  • Sleep apnea syndromes
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Theoretical domains framework

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