Apnea awareness, technology drive sleep

Friday, May 20, 2016

The customer base for sleep therapy is growing, thanks to greater exposure in the media and those who use mobile device technology for health management, market specialists say.

Public awareness of obstructive sleep apnea has increased dramatically due to a proliferation of news reports, advertisements and even discussion of the condition on scripted TV shows. For example, an episode of “The Simpsons” shows Homer using a CPAP, as does Tony Soprano on the HBO series “The Sopranos.”

“The difference between now and five years ago is the amount of people who even know what a CPAP is,” said Alex Lucio, executive vice president of Winter Haven, Fla.-based 3B Medical. “People are talking about it in casual conversation. When you see it become ordinary, then you know it has become mainstream.”

As part of an outreach program, Murrysville, Pa.-based Philips Respironics recently contributed to a Huffington Post and JetBlue campaign to raise awareness around sleep deprivation and how sufficient sleep can lead to improvements in overall health and well-being.

“Though it is difficult to pinpoint whether media campaigns directly correlate to more business, Philips has a long standing commitment to raising awareness around OSA and other sleep disorders,” said Mark D’Angelo, sleep business leader.

The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project estimates that 25 million U.S. adults remain undiagnosed for OSA. However, media campaigns like Healthy People 2020, launched by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010, are putting a bright spotlight on the condition, says Maggie Sinnig, sales coordinator at Chicago-based Sunset Healthcare Solutions.

“It has become an objective for the government to increase the proportion of persons with symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea who seek medical evaluation,” she said. 


While apnea has several co-morbidities, such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity and diabetes, it is conditions that stem from sleep deprivation, like narcolepsy, that have gotten the public’s attention due to accidents caused by drowsy drivers. The trucking industry has come under scrutiny by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for new regulations that would require all drivers be tested for apnea.

It’s an idea that promotes greater safety on the roadways and could boost the sleep industry’s business, but Michael P. Coppola, MD, executive vice president of medical affairs for Novasom in Glen Burnie, Md., says mandatory testing and screening still face an uphill battle.

“They’re getting there, but the difficulty is with stepping on the toes of owner/operators, truck driver unions and political pushback,” he said. “And because of huge driver turnover, trucking companies are reluctant to take over the financial burden if they think the driver won’t be working for them in a year.”


The evolution of mobile device apps and wearable tracking devices like Fitbits has gotten people more involved in monitoring their health and that technology has helped the sleep industry connect with users, says Mitch Yoel, executive vice president of business development for Somerset, Pa.-based Drive|DeVilbiss Healthcare.

“The adoption of smart phone apps specifically has benefited patients and providers alike,” he said. “Patient education and engagement is key to promoting patient compliance, which ultimately benefits the patient’s overall health. Providers benefit from the ease of wirelessly transmitted data and patients benefit from having an additional resource in their pocket to provide assistance with their ongoing therapy.”

For instance, Drive|DeVilbiss’ SmartLink app is designed to provide clinically relevant notifications and alerts that are specifically tailored to each individual’s sleep therapy. By doing so, the app “enriches the mundane relationship an OSA patient traditionally has with equipment,” Yoel said.

Meanwhile, 3B Medical has been focused on improving connectivity to meet the challenges posed by reimbursement.

“The challenge for the HME industry has been getting the data uploaded at the lowest possible cost point,” said Lucio. “While we offer cellular data at the lowest cost point, we also offer many free ways of doing it—first with Wi-Fi. By pairing the device with a router, they can have free data for the life of the device. Our machines also display a QR code that can be scanned and the data uploaded to the cloud.”

Bernadette McBrearty, vice president of marketing communications for the Americas at San Diego-based ResMed, says CPAP advancements don’t just apply to better fitting masks, they also cover data collection for remote patient management.

“It’s no longer just about comfort and compliance—connectivity is so important, as well,” she said.


Coppola, a pulmonary critical care and sleep physician, has seen the home sleep testing market evolve dramatically over the last 30 years. Long dominated by stand-alone sleep testing labs, the market is gradually accepting the validity of remote sleep testing as outcomes data becomes more reputable, he said.

“Home sleep testing is a reasonable alternative and quickly becoming the standard,” he said. “Patient acceptance is better, it can be done at a fraction of the cost and the results show it is equivalent and in some cases,  superior to sleep lab tests.”