O2 conservers/regulators steady as she flows

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Ambulatory systems such as Helios and Venture Homefill have indeed made a huge impact on the respiratory market, but manufacturers say that success hasn’t come at the expense of oxygen conservers and regulators, which remain more popular than ever. Moreover, they expect use of conservers and regulators to increase in the coming years.

“The market for conservers in our experience is exploding,” said Bob Sorbello, vice president of sales and marketing for Mada Medical, Carlstadt, NJ. “The reason for that is because, like electronics, the products have gotten smaller, lighter, better and less expensive.”

Holly Dysart-Ward, art & media manager for Chatsworth, Calif.-based CHAD Therapeutics, agrees that conserver technology is the impetus behind many new portable oxygen product developments.

“As a result, we believe that there will be more interest in oxygen conservers going forward,” she said.

A vibrant outlook means a sustained opportunity for providers to build conserver and regulator referral sales. The primary selling point: patient independence and enhanced quality of life.

“The more active your respiratory patients are, the better their quality of life is and the bigger the hero the provider becomes in the eyes of the referral source,” Sorbello said. “Conservers do that - they promote an active lifestyle, untethered from concentrators.”

Conserver and regulator growth hinges upon continuity between providers, referral sources and manufacturers, said Joe Priest, president of Buffalo, NY-based AirSep. So far this input exchange has led to patient-friendly innovations, but ultimately it is up to the provider to disseminate the full spectrum of features and benefits, he said.

“These products provide the patient with maximum flexibility with regard to weight, duration and mode of ambulation,” Priest said. “Carrying that one step further, the provider has to go to referral sources and demonstrate that their product offers as broad a base of benefits as possible. Discuss cost issues, reliability and patient capability, because mixing and matching these things can be a challenge.”

Although conservers have been part of the mainstream of respiratory products for some time, controversy about clinical efficacy exists. Dysart-Ward, for instance, contends “there are many conservers on the market today that starve patients for oxygen in the name of conservation.”

The challenge for manufacturers, she said, is to make conservers that provide the necessary amount of oxygen required to saturate the patient, while at the same time maintaining maximum conservation.

Scott Decker, vice president of Irvine, Calif.-based Cramer-Decker Medical, acknowledges that not everyone is sold on the conserver concept, but that it is an appropriate product for most patients.

“Some people say conservers don’t provide the saturation levels patients need compared to regulators,” he said. “But I am a big conserver advocate.”

While there are a myriad of ambulatory product choices available now, the market can accommodate all of them even if their functionalities overlap, Priest said.

“If you look at it from purely a functional standpoint, you would only need 10 to 20 varieties of cars, compared to the hundreds that are available,” he said. “Aesthetics and economics are what influence customers.”

Aesthetics such as space age design, easy portability and quiet operation have no doubt contributed to Helios’ sales success. Yet ambulatory systems have no therapeutic advantage over conservers, which is why economics is influential, Priest said.

“If you look at both systems, you can make the argument that the patient is adept at both systems,” he said. “To say that one system is better than the other is splitting hairs. Cylinders are more economical, which is why an overwhelming majority of oxygen patients still use conservers.”

Regulators remain viable because they are more widely accepted clinically and have a lower acquisition cost than conservers.

“It comes down to dollars and cents sometimes,” Decker said. “For the provider, selecting a conserver versus a regulator comes down to what is the best purchasing option. Conservers have a higher upfront cost than a regulator, but they generate savings in the long run.”

Distinctions also are drawn between pneumatic and electronic conservers. Priest observes that pneumatic conservers are smaller and lighter, but they need special cannulas to operate properly. Electronic conservers also have more precise conservation abilities, he said.

“Both are doing very well, however,” Priest said. “The decision on which one to use involves financial and convenience issues.”
Category: O2 Conservers & Regulators
Key Referral Sources:

Family practitioners, internal medicine practitioners, pulmonol-ogists, cardiologists, oncologists, respiratory therapists, RNs, hospital discharge planners, case managers

Techniques for Referral Source Relations:

- Demonstrate that you are the first line of defense for oxygen patients. Referral sources are looking for someone they can depend on to monitor each patient’s condition and promptly notify them of any changes. Employing pulse oximetry to closely gauge the patient’s vital signs, compliance and quality of life is the kind of feedback that impresses referral sources and ensures future business.

- Position your company as a caregiver that assumes full responsibility for the patient’s at-home respiratory needs. Suggested marketing pitch: “Allow us to assume full responsibility for monitoring the patient. By turning your patient over to us, you are diminishing your extended liability.”

- Don’t cut corners by eliminating RTs. Some companies, in an attempt to lower their costs, use drivers as the sole contacts with patients. Don’t be one of them.

- Responsiveness to the patient and referral source is essential. It is up to the provider to make life easier for the customers they serve. So for a discharge planner, for instance, the provider should do everything possible to streamline paperwork to get the patient up and running quickly.

- Find the right product to match the patient’s lifestyle. Determine whether a regulator or conserver is more suitable; weigh the advantages of pneumatic and electronic conservers.