Originally Published MDDI September 2002
NEWS & ANALYSIS
|At-home tests, such as the SleepStrip, are aiding physicians in the diagnosis of sleep disorders, such as apnea.|
Do more sleep apnea diagnoses equal more dollars for medical device manufacturers? A recent study is catching the attention of manufacturers of devices that diagnose and treat sleep apnea.
Citing data obtained from a National Ambulatory Medical Care survey, Chest journal reported in its June 2002 issue that sleep apnea diagnoses increased twelve-fold from 1990 to 1998. More than one million diagnoses were made in 1998, compared with about 100,000 in 1990. The American Sleep Apnea Association reports that more than 12 million Americans are currently suffering from the condition, and it estimates that roughly 10 million remain undiagnosed. The Chest study concluded that physicians recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea more now than ever before.
Among the implications of increased diagnoses of sleep apnea are a desire on the part of both patients and physicians for easier and less time-consuming diagnostic procedures and a greater potential demand for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment devices.
Gary Corbett, vice president and chief information officer of Sleep Solutions Inc. (Palo Alto, CA), manufacturer of the physician-prescribed NovaSom at-home sleep-apnea diagnostic device as well as the MediTrack information management system, says the Chest study is "just another confirmation of the continuing drumbeat" of both research on and physician awareness of sleep apnea and the ways it is diagnosed. Sleep apnea is "one of the first things that physicians should be checking for [in patients who report sleep disturbances], not one of the last things. And I think that's where the change is occurring," Corbett says. "Up until now, sleep apnea has been one of the last things physicians thought about, because it wasn't a top-of-mind issue. . . . We're definitely very pleased with how things are going." He adds that the continued and growing interest in sleep apnea and other sleep problems is "beginning to gain traction" in the media.
Like Corbett, Noam Hadas, CEO of SLP (Tel-Aviv, Israel), a company that manufactures the SleepStrip at-home diagnostic device, is not surprised by the Chest study results. "I think sleep disorders were indeed disregarded in the past, and only in the last few years have they gained their proper place in medicine," he says. He believes sleep apnea diagnoses will "grow some more before a rebound." SLP has been developing sensors for sleep diagnostics for the past ten years. Hadas says that during that time, SLP has learned that sleep apnea is not difficult to diagnose, but that "most general practitioners are unfamiliar with" the disorder. Although the SleepStrip has yet to catch on in the United States, Hadas sees "very favorable reaction to the technology and concept."
For manufacturers of CPAP therapeutic devices, the future looks promising. Steve Moore, director of homecare-product marketing for Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Inc. (Laguna Hills, CA), a manufacturer of CPAP devices and integrated CPAP units that incorporate heated humidifiers, says that demand for those types of products is predicted to be constant through 2007. He estimates the industry's annual growth rate as being between 20 and 25%, and he adds that the market is "very competitive." Fisher & Paykel recently introduced a new type of CPAP therapy device, the Oracle, which delivers air pressure through the mouth instead of the nose.
As Corbett puts it, "The timing [of the explosion in physician diagnoses of sleep apnea] could not be more perfect" for manufacturers in the field. Reflecting on his own company's success, he adds, "We did our homework.
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