The ‘CPAP man’ works the Web

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Monday, May 31, 2004

KENNEWICK, Wash. - Joe Guilford (aka the CPAP man) has a thing or two to say about respiratory therapists who feel they know best when it comes to treating sleep disordered breathing.

“The thing that sets us apart from all the other providers out there is that we know what we are doing,” said Guilford, who runs cpapman.com, an Internet company that sells CPAP units, masks and supplies. “Let’s get them all together in one place and give me a week with them, and I’ll turn this industry around compliance wise.”

When it comes to defending his business, Guilford doesn’t pull punches.

And when it comes to drop shipping CPAP equipment and supplies, neither do many respiratory therapists who feel an intense clinical involvement best assures patient compliance.

“I’ve got insurers who want to sign contracts and do CPAP units for $650,” said Jill Spellman, president of Oxygen One in Waukesha, Wis. “How are your going to use a quality product, a quality mask and use an RT to work with them for $650? I say I can’t do it.”

But that’s just what Guilford does (minus the RT), and he says it works fine. In fact, he estimates his compliance rate (based on repeat business) is about 85%. Industry watchers say Guilford’s success inspired Rotech’s new dropship CPAP program.

Guilford started his Web site in 1997 after losing his job in marketing at a sleep lab. Since then, the site has serviced 18,000 customers and last year generated $1.4 million in revenue.

Guilford accepts only cash sales and doesn’t do any follow up calls after a sale to see if the patient is compliant. Selling equipment at “20% to 60% off retail” doesn’t allow him to do that, and generally it’s not necessary, he says.

The majority of his customers are motivated to improve their health and understand - thanks to their sleep lab and cpapman.com - that non-compliance can lead to a host of deadly co-morbidities, Guilford said.

“I’m not here to sell stuff - I’m here to help people get over a problem,” he said. “The only way that will happen is if the person is willing to admit to the problem and do the things necessary to get over the problem.”

When a patient orders equipment from cpapman.com, he answers a series of questions regarding nose size and lifestyle. If a patient travels a lot, for example, he may be best served by a lightweight unit. Applying his years of experience, Guilford said, he or his staff can generally chose the appropriate equipment.

After filling an order, most equipment and supplies are shipped in one to three days.

The problem with most traditional HME providers, he says, is that, in order to save money, they carry a limited variety of supplies. As a result, it’s no surprise compliance suffers when that equipment proves uncomfortable. Cpapman.com will go to any manufacture for equripment, he said. The company also tries to set reasonable expectations for patients.

“My favorite line is that it took you 20 years to get here - we can’t change it in 20 hours,” he said.

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