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Respiratory supply chain stabilizes

Respiratory supply chain stabilizes

In the four years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the respiratory market has been “on a rollercoaster” with supply chain challenges. Now, with the virus less of a threat, the situation has stabilized, manufacturers say. 

“We are seeing the supply chain environment return to (previous) levels and have maintained a 98% on-time delivery status in 2023,” said Kevin Smith, CEO of Goleta, Calif.-based Inogen. “Our manufacturing facility in Plano, Texas, has undergone a 50% capacity expansion and we go through our contract manufacturer in the Czech Republic for European sales. The investment in our infrastructure allows us to manufacture and maintain a strong supply of devices that are ready to ship that same day.” 

To be sure, the respiratory market has been “on a rollercoaster” for the past few years, said Paul Miller, director of business development for Northfield, Ill.-based Medline. 

“A key lesson learned from the pandemic is the need to find alternative solutions in the face of product shortages,” he said. “Manufacturers and distributors have had to be nimble and adapt to create solutions that address all challenges. Vendors are responding by increasing production volume, introducing new features that they may have not previously had, and are entering new markets to meet demand. Through creative tactics, such as expanding product lines to include features in demand, vendors have been working to supply the entire continuum of care.” 

Katherine Royster, spokeswoman for Clearwater, Fla.-based Rhythm Healthcare, points to an HME News Newspoll about lessons learned from the Philips Respironics CPAP recall and the pandemic, in which respondents answered that they learned the dangers of putting “all of their eggs in one basket.”  

“As one of the ‘emerging players’ in the space, we have seen a willingness from providers to develop relationships with multiple providers rather than focusing on one partner,” she said. “We also see a desire for them to take advantage of programs and services outside of just the price they are paying. Providers want a true partner that will work with them in the good times and the bad.”  

State of POCs 

A key market stability indicator is POC utilization, which manufacturers report has surged to near pre-COVID levels. 

“We’re seeing increased demand for POC devices from our customers,” Miller said. “A decade ago, their presence was sporadic, but today it would be hard to walk into a grocery store without seeing someone using a POC.” 

Over this time, these devices have also undergone significant advancements, particularly in their efficiency in delivering oxygen, thereby broadening their applicability to a more diverse patient demographic, Miller said. 

“POCs now offer a solution that creates ease for the patient, with rechargeable batteries they give users the convenience of easy charging, similar to standard electronic devices.,” he said. "This reliability and user-friendliness have substantially improved the quality of life for individuals dealing with respiratory issues. As technology keeps advancing, the adoption of POCs will continue to skyrocket, driven by their efficacy and convenience in addressing respiratory needs.” 

Likewise, Rhythm Healthcare has seen a higher adoption of POCs, Royster said. 

“Rhythm has seen many DME companies expand their use of POC devices, as well as new DME companies adopt POC devices as their main modality for mobility for their oxygen patients,” she said. “I think many DME companies see the POC as a way to differentiate themselves in the market with referral sources as a clinical respiratory partner caring for their patients with chronic disease.” 

Rhythm has also introduced its Rhythm Resolve manufacturer partner program, which provides a replacement device – rather than a repair – for in-warranty POCs. 

“This program has given many DME partners the confidence to come off the sidelines so they can better manage costs and inventory,” Royster said. 

Smith is optimistic about the POC’s future. 

“We continue to see a large underpenetrated market opportunity ahead in POCs and non-portable oxygen,” he said. “A recently completed real world evidence study offers a compelling conclusion supporting the adoption of POCs. The study analyzed the effectiveness, burden and cost of illness of over 380,000 long-term oxygen therapy patients. Baseline mobility was strongly correlated to lower risk of mortality in mobile patients using POCs with higher duration of autonomy, lower risk of ER visits and hospitalizations, and lower health care resource utilization cost in patients using POCs for a shorter duration of time. This further reinforces that patient mobility is key to their health and using the devices that are compatible have clear benefits.”


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