Trip tests performance

Saturday, September 30, 2006

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. - It wasn't Mount Everest, but for 13 COPD patients who hooked up to portable oxygen concentrators and traveled high into the Rocky Mountains in August, it probably seemed that way.
"Oxygen patients are very afraid of altitude," said Dr. Tom Petty, the acknowledged father of long-term oxygen therapy and a leader of the trip to Echo Lake. "There were a few people who said they'd been afraid to go visit their grandchildren at 10,000 feet, and I wanted to see how they'd do on the bus."
Petty, who lives and works in the Denver area, lined up the patients, who road the bus as high as 10,600 feet. Bob McCoy, managing director for Apple Valley, Minn.-based Valley Inspired Products, organized the trip and secured the two sponsors: SeQual Technologies, which manufacturers the Eclipse portable oxygen concentrator, and Nonin, a maker of pulse oximeters.
Petty and crew scheduled the trip to see how oxygen patients using a portable concentrators fared at high altitudes--would they desaturate or remain stable? Patients used the Eclipse POC while Petty, McCoy and a handful of respiratory therapists and nurses employed Nonin pulse oximters to monitor each patient's blood-oxygen saturation.
"We did continuous monitoring because we didn't want people to be focused only on the numbers," said Petty. "We wanted them to look out the windows and see the elk--there were some elk in the pastures and eagles flying all around. It was a beautiful trip."
Twelve of the 13 patients maintained healthy blood-oxygen levels on the Eclipse's pulse-dose setting or its continuous flow, with peaks at 3 liters per minute. One patient, however, felt uncomfortable and transitioned to a continuous-flow liquid back-up unit.
"I think the most important thing about this is that this lightweight oxygen generating equipment is allowing people to do that sort of thing now," said Bob Fary, vice president of sales for Inogen, maker of the Inogen One POC.
That may be so, but when traveling, especially at high altitudes, patients should monitor their oxygen saturation regularly, no matter what device they are using, Petty said.
"One of our mottos is: 'Titrate when you migrate,'" Petty said. "When you are in a car or plane, if you find you are desaturating, you can adjust the flow accordingly."
Petty acknowledged that doctors don't like oxygen patients to experiment with their prescribed liter flow. Nevertheless, it happens all the time, said another industry source.
"If they are on an excursion up into the mountains and they are on their regular setting on the Eclipse or Inogen One or whatever, and they are feeling short of breath, the first thing they should do is turn it up," the source said. "But RTs can't tell them to do that because it would be violating their prescription."