CPAP.com begins charging for service
HOUSTON - An Internet CPAP provider blasted into new territory recently when it started charging for follow-up therapy services.
CPAP.com rolled out the new, patient-driven service in late August.
"We have a philosophy of being very responsive to what patients want," said John Goodman, company co-founder and president. "We are having a blast with this new opportunity."
Customers can choose either the Therapy Follow-up Services package for $99.99 or Therapy Follow-up Service by Respiratory Therapist for $159.99. Follow-ups begin the day after the sleep equipment is delivered (it doesn't have to be bought at CPAP.com) and are done at 24 and 48 hours, one week and one month, via phone, e-mail, IM--"whatever works for them," said Goodman.
Both services are geared toward newer CPAP users who may be a little nervous using the Internet for such purchases, fearing they'll have trouble on their own.
So far, said Goodman, the pricier respiratory therapist option is the popular choice.
"They find out they've got an RT advocate that is going to be calling them, is going to be talking to their doctor or doing whatever they have to do," said Goodman.
Customers can get their money back if they don't like the service.
Goodman said the typical Internet customer is of above average intelligence and committed to succeeding with their treatment.
Goodman and other Internet retailers say lower costs and wider selections offer customers choice, but some brick-and-mortar providers as well as manufacturers have questioned whether low prices translate into poor or no follow-up care.
In October, ResMed instituted strict guidelines for Internet providers--including minimum mandatory pricing--in an effort to ensure patients get quality service.
"We're doing all we can to work with ResMed on behalf our patients that would like to buy ResMed products from CPAP.com," said Goodman. "The great majority of the manufacturers appreciate that CPAP should be represented to the end users, so they are advocating multiple channels of distribution. And we believe that's the way forward."
With Medicare constantly cutting reimbursements, will the model of unbundling professional services from the products themselves take off?
"Any creative ideas like that are things that we're all going to have to look at," said Gary Miller, general manager at Pittsburgh, Kan.-based Mt. Carmel Medical. "I know that there are savvy consumers out there, but there are still quite a few consumers who only want to do what their insurance plan tells them to do."
CPAP.com has grown quickly since its inception in 1999. Goodman said he's comfortable with forecasted growth rates of 20% in the sleep market and another 20% growth in Internet retailing.
In addition to sleep equipment, CPAP.com offers forums, chatrooms, e-mail and telephone help, machine comparison and mask fitting guides and other information aimed at helping the customer make informed choices. CPAP.com accepts Medicare and private insurance.
"The Internet is not going to take the place of DMEs," said Goodman. "But neither can the DMEs take the place of the Internet channel, and that's one of the reasons why the Internet is growing. Eventually there will be an equilibrium reached."