SleepNet chases pediatrics

Friday, July 31, 2009

HAMPTON, N.H.--Despite an explosion in the number of kids suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, equipment options can, as one industry watcher estimated, be counted on one hand. Those options, however, just got a little bigger.

On June 19, the FDA approved SleepNet’s MiniMe mask for the treatment of OSA in children age 2 and older. For about five years, the MiniMe has been used by adult patients, but because of its small size (it’s a nasal mask that fits under the nose, not over it), healthcare providers have often used it off-label for kids, said Lori Margolin, SleepNet’s regional sales director.

“There’s always been a need for children’s masks, but five, six or seven years ago there wasn’t really a market,” she said. “Now that trend is changing. There are kids on CPAP.”

SleepNet officials expect the FDA approval to boost MiniMe sales among healthcare professionals who refuse to use products off-label.

Other masks approved by the FDA for pediatric use include ResMed’s Mirage Kidsta and Philips Respironics’ Profile Lite Nasal Mask, both designed for children seven and older. Otherwise, equipment options specifically for kids, both blowers and masks, are slim pickings, say providers.

Exploding market

It’s estimated that 1.7 million kids in the United States may require CPAP therapy. That’s up from about 200,000 in 1975, thanks mainly to the nation’s obesity epidemic, said Jason Traynor, global product manager for sleep therapy at

Philips Respironics.

Despite those numbers, pediatric OSA appears to be an underserved and misunderstood market, reports the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). That’s because primary care physicians often misdiagnose daytime sleepiness as related to bedwetting, nightmares or some other common childhood issue - not OSA.

SleepNet’s Margolin expects that to change as physicians become more aware of OSA in children. The company has plans for additional pediatric masks - as do ResMed and Respironics.

As for providers, most still consider pediatric OSA a low-margin, labor-intense specialty niche and avoid it.

“It’s a world of its own,” said Mark Ehlers, owner of Ehlers Health Supply in Stockton, Calif. “We don’t really get that many referrals for them, either.”