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Polysomnography is labour-intensive for diagnosing obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). We compared two algorithms for initiating continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment for patients with suspected OSA.Symptomatic OSA patients were randomised into either algorithm I or II. Algorithm I consisted of an empirical CPAP trial whereas algorithm II utilised an Apnea Risk Evaluation System, a wireless device applied on the forehead, for establishing a diagnosis before a CPAP trial for 3 weeks. Primary outcome was success of CPAP trial, defined as CPAP usage > 4 h/night and willingness to continue CPAP. Subjective usefulness of CPAP, accuracy of Apnea Risk Evaluation System versus polysomnography and CPAP adherence at 6 months were secondary end-points.Altogether 138 patients in algorithm I and 110 patients in algorithm II completed the CPAP trial. There were no significant differences between these algorithms with respect to the primary end-point. The sensitivity and specificity of algorithm I versus II as a diagnostic test for OSA were 0.3, 0.8 versus 0.31, 1.00 respectively. In predicting CPAP adherence at 6 months, the likelihood ratio positive for algorithms I and II was 2.7 and 5.27 respectively. The mean (SE) time taken from the first consultation to the end of CPAP trial in algorithm I and algorithm II was 60 (2) and 98 (5) days, respectively, P < 0.01.An ambulatory approach with portable sleep monitoring for diagnosing OSA before a CPAP trial can identify more patients who would adhere to CPAP at 6 months than empirical CPAP treatment alone.