The CPAP machine – An American success story?

Have you ever heard of a company called ResMed? If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and have been prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, you probably have.

Or, if you follow the stock market, you might recognize ResMed as one of its rising stars. Rising because, according to its website, ResMed ‘s revenues and profits have grown every quarter since it was formed in 1989. In 2012, ResMed reported revenues of approximately $1.4 billion.

What is the secret to ResMed’s amazing success? Our country’s poor health.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the common condition in which the airway collapses or is blocked during sleep, causing a patient to actually stop breathing many times every night. Patients with OSA not only complain of constant fatigue, but are at increased risk for serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Older people are at risk for OSA because the muscles in the throat lose tone over time—like the rest of our bodies.

But the increasingly common and powerful risk factor for OSA is obesity. The tissue in the throat becomes enlarged—fat—and increases the likelihood of the airway being blocked. OSA caused by obesity affects all ages, even children. As our nation has become more obese, the incidence of OSA has also increased.

The CPAP machine works by exerting mild air pressure (through a nasal mask) to keep the airway open while the patient sleeps. A ResMed CPAP machine costs about $1,000; sleep studies to diagnose OSA and then fit the machine cost several thousand dollars in addition to that.

OSA is a serious condition that negatively impacts a person’s health and quality of life. CPAP machines help, but they are an example of our nation’s focus on treating rather than preventing illness. Dependence on technology and drugs will always be more expensive—and ultimately less healthy—than prevention of the disease or condition in the first place.

Related story from The Fiscal Times: Sleepless in America: A $32.4 billion business

Losing weight along with other lifestyle changes can significantly alleviate OSA symptoms as well as improve overall health and decrease risk for other obesity-related diseases. But the CPAP machine is the “quick fix” everyone wants.

Related story from National Public Radio: The sleep apnea business is booming, and insurers aren’t happy

ResMed exemplifies a successful company that sells a product people need and want. And they will continue to thrive. According to ResMed’s corporate fact sheet, “operations have grown dramatically,” and they now operate in more than 70 countries.

dreamlandIn his book Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, David K. Randall writes about sleep apnea, CPAP machines, and ResMed’s humble beginning and stellar future:

The spread of Western fast-food companies like McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut to emerging countries such as China and India may be the greatest growth engine for ResMed.

Simply put, more fat in the bodies of the world’s population equals a larger number of sleep apnea cases, creating a larger customer base for ResMed’s products.

It seems only fair that if we are going to export unhealthy lifestyles, we should export the treatment as well, doesn’t it?

Sláinte,

Frugal Nurse

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