What's Ahead in CPAP Machine Design?
By Andrew Senske, President CPAP-Supply.com
Last Updated 02/09/2010 4:48:00 PM


This past Christmas my wife gave me a Canon T1i DSLR digital camera with a couple of lenses. It's a very nice setup. My dream DSLR. Today - just six weeks after receiving the new camera - I got an email from an online retailer indicating that the Canon T2i is now available. My first thought was, "That's cool", and then my second thought was, "Hey, wait a minute. Obsolescence in six weeks?!"

Well, the T1i really isn't obsolete, and it has been around for ten months (it's new to me, though). Without getting into too much camera tech-talk, I'll just say that the T2i has some pretty cool new features that represent incremental improvements over the T1i. If I was a little bit more of a tech geek, I'd probably be drooling over the new features, because, after all, who doesn't need a memory card with a Wi-Fi transmitter in it?

But what does this have to do with CPAP machines?

Nothing.

But it got me thinking about the life cycle of CPAP machines and what's coming next in the world of CPAP equipment.

It should go without saying that the only thing that should be driving the development of new CPAP equipment is the voice of the customer. Manufacturer's should be making exactly what you want. Are they, though? In a lot of cases I think the answer is yes. In some cases, I'm not so sure.

Take, for example, the latest CPAP machines from Philips Respironics - the Philips Respironics System One Sleep Therapy Systems. Although these are very nicely built CPAP machines and offer a few nice new features (like the easy-to-remove humidifier, simpler user interface, etc.), I can't help but wonder if Philips Respironics forgot to talk to actual CPAP users when designing the new model line. The machines in the new model lineup are actually significantly bigger than the older REMstar M Series machines. I know I'm no marketing genius, but I know that anyone who actually talks to CPAP users on a daily basis would know that making a new CPAP machine bigger and bulkier than the last model is a step backwards in design.

Don't get me wrong. It's good that Respironics fixed their humdifiers with the new "dry box" technology found on the new devices. But does the size of the unit really have to get so much bigger just to keep the thing dry? I've never once talked to a customer who's looking for a bigger CPAP machine. When manufacturers listen to the collective voice of the customer, they tend to get it right every time. No matter what they're doing, from manufacturing chop sticks to manufacturing hockey sticks. Regardless of what lies ahead in the area of CPAP design, the manufacturers need to take note of this.

So, what do I think is coming - or at least what do I think should be coming - for CPAP machines? Here's my list.

Smaller and Lighter CPAP Machines
Any manufacturer that doesn't have a laser focus on this objective is probably engaged in the wrong activity. It's by far the most critical factor when discussing CPAP machine attributes with customers.

I envision a CPAP machine hardly bigger than the motor that drives it. After all, a CPAP machine is just a fancy fan. A 3" x 3" x 3" cube weighing less than one pound will be a reality at some point. Regardless of size, CPAP machines must be quiet. The good news is that they already are quiet. Almost no one complains of noisy CPAP machines (unless the CPAP machine is defective and making a lot of unusual noise). All the noise comes from air rushing through the tubing and through the mask. So, machines can get really small and still be quiet.

More Reliable CPAP Machines
Although CPAP machines generally have pretty good warranties (2 years for most, and 3 years for the DeVilbiss IntelliPAP models), they fail prematurely all too often. We've dealt with a manufacturer that has had about a 5% failure rate at the best of times and about a 50% failure rate at the worst of times within the warranty period. Obviously, this is abysmal, even at the best of times. (Don't worry, though, because we no longer sell that line of equipment.) The manufacturers should be employing the principles of kaizen to improve quality while reducing cost. It sounds difficult, but it's entirely possible. Companies all over the world - even here in Spokane - have used the kaizen philosophy to continuously improve products while drastically reducing prices and increasing profit margins.

In a throwback to when washing machines used to last 30 years, consumers simply need to demand a higher level of reliability. Especially when it comes to medical equipment like CPAP machines. It's one thing for your fancy, overpriced washing machine with far too many circuit boards, integrated circuits and miles of wires to fail in a couple of years. It's something else entirely for the machine you rely on to breathe at night to fail unexpectedly and prematurely.

True Battery Integration for CPAP Machines
Five years after the startup company AEIOMed developed the first CPAP machine with it's own integrated battery, no one else has followed. Customers are asking for it, but no other manufacturers are delivering. If only I had a nickel for every time a CPAP user asked me if the AEIOMed Everest battery would work with a ResMed or Respironics machine.

Imagine if Steve Jobs rolled out the iPod saying, "Yeah, it runs on a battery, but you have to connect it to a free-standing battery with a 12V cord. Oh, and you'll have to get the battery somewhere else".

To the manufacturers I say this: Get with the program. Design a CPAP machine like you were going to design a laptop computer. The technology exists. Use it.

Based on the conversations I have with customers every single day, my guess is that CPAP users - and maybe more importantly, prescribing doctors - would flock to a well-designed battery-powered CPAP machine with a truly integrated battery that would last for at least two nights before needing a recharge.

Sub-$100 CPAP Machines
It goes without saying that a lot of people who suffer from sleep apnea aren't able to get the CPAP therapy they need to live a healthy and happy life. Nearly every day we turn away customers because they don't have a prescription to buy a CPAP machine. They know - or at least they think they know - they have a sleep disorder, but they can't afford a sleep study or a visit to the doctor for a prescription. Price is a big issue. Not just the price of the CPAP machine, but the price of healthcare in general. Making CPAP therapy available at a price point that's manageable for just about anyone is a good idea. Ultimately it can help lead to insurance companies saving money, and to the cost of healthcare decreasing.

I imagine a Chinese manufacturer will eventually build the "people's CPAP". If there are no regulations for the use of CPAP equipment in China, then they might sell 50 million units in China alone. They'd sell a bunch here in the US, too, but far fewer because of our population and because of prescription requirements, the cost of sleep studies, and other barriers to therapy.

QCD + VOC = SUCCESS
At the end of the day, only three things matter to consumers: quality, cost and delivery. If the current CPAP manufacturers and any new ones who come along focus consistently on these three key metrics in addition to focusing reverently on the voice of the customer, then soon enough you'll be getting emails from us and others like us, making you feel like you just might need the next new CPAP machine. And maybe it will have an Eye-Fi SD card - one of those cool memory cards with a Wi-Fi transmitter built-in.

We pride ourselves in listening to and knowing the voice of our customers, so please feel free to send your comments and suggestions to us.

Andrew Senske
President
www.cpap-supply.com

CPAP-Supply.com is a leading online retailer of CPAP equipment. Located in Spokane, WA CPAP-Supply.com has been serving thousands of customers around the world since 2001. Founded on a belief that patients are their own best primary care providers, CPAP-Supply.com understands the importance of educating patients and customers on both the effects of and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. For more information visit CPAP-Supply.com or call toll free 1-888-955-2727.