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Respiratory market emerges from ‘whiplash’

Respiratory market emerges from ‘whiplash’

 The respiratory market has undergone a series of shifts over the past two-and-a-half years, due to the pandemic and other issues, like supply chain disruptions. But now it appears that external forces have waned, creating a more stable environment for providers, respiratory manufacturers say. 

Jim Worrell, chief commercial officer for Pinellas Park, Fla.-based Quality Biomedical, called the past couple of years “a roller coaster ride” as the industry continues to emerge from the pandemic gyrations. 

“The shifts in the standard of care and the related required equipment has been very interesting,” he said. “In 2020, it was all about ventilators. No one could get enough and all parts were on backorder. Even the emergency stockpile at various locations was caught generally unprepared as vents were past (preventative maintenance) dates or were missing vital components.” 

In mid-2021 the standard of care shifted to oxygen concentrators and away from vents, putting a major strain on all manufacturers, Worrell said. Then, he said supply chain issues later that year caused a major disruption in the market and that no one could get enough inventory.  

“As a service company, we were receiving O2 concentrators from the ‘bone pile’ and were asked to make them patient-ready,” Worrell said. “That shortage continued through mid-2022.  Then there was the Philips Respironics fiasco and another market shift. It has been a rollercoaster.” 

Steve Bannon, president of St. Louis-based Responsive Respiratory, agrees that the recent ups and downs from the pandemic, supply chain shortages, pricing changes and demand spikes have caused “whiplash” for HME providers and manufacturers. 

“Even as we settle into a ‘new normal,’ higher-than-usual inventories may linger, as we seek to buffer any future struggles brought on by inflation, transportation strikes and material shortages,” he said. “If the last two-and-a-half years taught us anything, it is how to be nimble and reactive to unexpected events outside of the industry.”  

Another legacy of the tumultuous time is a new appreciation and respect for the important roles of HME providers and home respiratory technologies, said Chris LaPorte, senior director of product management for Port Washington, N.Y.-based Drive DeVilbiss’ Respiratory Business Unit. 

“The sheer number of people with pulmonary complications from COVID-19 who were able to be cared for in their home with critical oxygen and other respiratory technologies during the pandemic has forced healthcare systems, payers and other stakeholders to re-examine their previously held beliefs about the benefits of homecare,” LaPorte said. “This is particularly true with regards to the clinical and logistic importance of the manufacturers and providers who delivered an unprecedented amount of oxygen concentrators and other technologies to patients in their homes.” 

Barry Hassett, vice president of global marketing for Ball Ground, Ga.-based CAIRE, stopped short of calling changes in the respiratory market an evolution, but asserted that it “weathered a significant disruption.”  

In Hassett’s view, “COVID drove unusual patterns of demand for stationary and portable devices throughout the pandemic and what we’re seeing now is the market settling back into more normal conditions. We’re certainly not back to normal yet, especially with regard to an excess supply of stationary concentrators and with regard to supplies of critical parts and components. Costs remain high due to hyperinflation, and we don’t expect many of those to return to pre-pandemic levels.” 

Future directions 

As the respiratory market transitions out of a pandemic realm, specialists in the field are gauging how the experience will impact the industry going forward. 

“Given the proven benefits of oxygen therapy in treating acute but stable patients with hypoxemia in the home, there is no question that an expanded use of home oxygen therapy will help to accelerate discharge, freeing up space for more acutely ill patients and reduce demand on strained hospital staff,” LaPorte said. “The role of connectivity in concentrators and other oxygen devices is still evolving, but it is fair to say connected devices will become an integral part of remote, telemedical care in the future.” 

Joe Lewarski, Drive DeVilbiss’ senior vice president of clinical affairs, views a technological horizon that includes a number of innovations. 

“These may include expanding device clinical and technical capabilities, defining the role and value of connectivity, and improving the overall performance, reliability, user experience and value the products deliver to both providers and the end-users,” he said. 

Quality Biomedical has introduced the concept of using QR codes to track the chain-of-custody of respiratory equipment, from provider to the service center and back, Worrell said.   

“This has been very well accepted by providers large and small, and makes the process of getting RMAs for O2 concentrators, ventilators and CPAPs much easier,” he said. 

Because the pandemic changed the way healthcare is consumed, Hassett sees continued development of connective digital tools will increase access and interaction between patients and providers. 

“HME provider teams are just sorting the details out from a business and customer service perspective,” he said. “We are here to work with these providers as they embrace today’s innovations, but also collaborate on those future developments that can improve their business efficiencies.”


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