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Oxygen market has evolved in pandemic

Oxygen market has evolved in pandemic

Between the continuing threat of COVID-19 and lingering supply chain disruption, 2021 was a challenging year in the respiratory market for manufacturers, providers and patients alike. The pandemic has had a profound impact on the way the HME industry operates, while product distribution snarls have been a source of frustration. 

These developments illuminated the HME industry’s profile within the overall healthcare spectrum, inspired a greater embrace of medical and information technology and raised questions about how supply chain interruptions can be overcome. 

“The pandemic shined a bright light on the extraordinary value of respiratory care practitioners across the continuum of care and the need for a robust respiratory device industry that is centered in the United States,” said Erika Laskey, chief commercial officer for Bothell, Wash.-based Ventec Life.  

Domestic manufacturing is critical “to provide the highest standards of patient care, product quality, and product availability during times of global crisis," she said. "It was through American grit, ingenuity, and partnership that we were able to produce 30,000 ventilators in 154 days for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during COVID-19 and we are extremely proud of this accomplishment.” 

Through it all, demand for oxygen equipment remains high for ventilators and oxygen concentrators, suppliers said. 

“When COVID first hit, the demand for ventilators was through the roof,” said Jim Worrell, chief commercial officer for Boulder, Colo.-based Quality Biomedical. “Now the demand for portable and stationary oxygen concentrators is through the roof. The medical community is recognizing the acute need for respiratory support in the home as they strive to transfer COVID patients from the hospital to the home.” 

Tom Bannon, president of St. Louis-based Responsive Respiratory, says he’s seen considerable increases in the requirements for home oxygen therapy, particularly high-flow devices, 

“As such, the market continues to rely upon traditional oxygen delivery methods such as aluminum cylinders and concentrators, which spotlights the value of home respiratory care versus limited capacity of hospitals,” he said. “Portable concentrators are not able to provide high enough volumes to support the majority of COVID patients recovering in their homes.” 

Embracing telehealth 

One of the most important technological breakthroughs caused by the pandemic is the immediate growth of telehealth, which has facilitated remote provider-patient communications. Though a concept for decades, telehealth has quickly become the norm for patient care, said Leah Noaeill, vice president of marketing and clinical affairs with Eagan, Minn.-based ABM Respiratory Care. 

“Telehealth has become even more important for home respiratory care and it will continue to evolve to enable telehealth,” she said. “The pandemic has shown that we do not have enough trained healthcare professionals to manage  patients at their point of care. To enable better care in the home, technology needs to enable interaction and real-time monitoring between the patient, the caregiver and the healthcare team.” 

Barry Hassett, vice president of global marketing for Ball Ground, Ga.-based CAIRE, said the perception of “smart” oxygen technology in the provider community has changed due to the pandemic. 

“Previously, I think providers perceived it as an ‘extra,’ but not a necessity to their oxygen user management,” he said. “Today with the increase of oxygen users and equipment used in the field, our telehealth solution allows the provider to view alerts and equipment data from both CAIRE portable and stationary oxygen concentrators – all from the convenience of a computer desktop. The end result is that the provider can now quickly spot those who require additional support and service.” 

Supply chain link 

Product shortages and supply chain difficulties are not specific to the HME industry, but with healthcare the consequences ultimately affect patients. 

Dave Lyman, vice president of sales for Waterloo, Iowa-based VGM, calls supply chain disruption “the challenge” for respiratory providers, especially in the sleep therapy sector. 

“Between the Philips Respironics CPAP recall and shortages of parts and accessories, a lot of sleep providers can’t meet the demand,” he said. “That means sleep providers have to look at apnea patients and only take care of the most severe cases.” 

 Lyman points to other shortages in the respiratory market, especially with microchips, medical grade plastic and steel for oxygen tanks. Manufacturers who produce products domestically said they haven’t seen major interruptions in their distribution, however. 

Pandemic legacy 

While the pandemic has certainly not ended, its lessons are still being processed within the HME community. Among them are the pertinence of value-based care models and a renewed emphasis on clinical outcomes, said Zach Gantt, CEO of Livingston, Tenn.-based Encore Healthcare. 

“The future of our industry must become centered around the patient, not just the equipment,” he said. “Payers are not as worried about who can deliver a device cheaper as who can bring more value through reducing utilization and improving outcomes for their members. Creating a new patient-centric model and using outcome data to drive these discussions is critical and will determine who holds the payer contracts in 2022 and beyond.” 

Neal Smith, director of marketing and education for Austin, Texas-based Movair, added that the pandemic brought attention to the importance of overall respiratory care and the need for more preventative healthcare options to keep patients at home and out of the hospital. 

“Future innovations will need to continue to look at more preventative health and home respiratory solutions,” he said.” Long-term solutions for progressive respiratory issues from COVID and ways to keep respiratory patients at home during the next pandemic are things that will be key in future product and treatment development.”



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