Why Buy From An Internet Retailer?

Author: Tim Tillman, VP/CIO - TheCPAPPeople.com

After talking with three different patients on the phone this morning, I decided I needed to write a blog article to explain some things – specifically how our business model works, how you as the patient are involved, and why we exist as a company.

We try to explain through our websites and our associated marketing that you have choices in your CPAP therapy. Well, what does this really mean? More often than not, the CPAP machine that a patient is using right now in their home is not something they picked to use. A local provider received a referral and sent someone to the house with a CPAP machine and mask. The mask may have been selected during a sleep study or recommendation may have been made by the Doctor. The patient was handed a machine and mask and probably had some initial training on how to use it. When we ask patients about their CPAP machine, the most popular response is, “I don’t know, they just brought me that machine and I have been using it.” This is, of course, no fault of the Doctor, the DME provider, or even the patient. It just is not common to discuss the options and choices available. Most patients do not know the major brands, the popular products, etc. I don’t fault the patients because they are used to this type of practice in healthcare, meaning that they are not used to having options and choices. A patient goes to a Doctor and relies on that Doctor to tell them the next step to get the medication or equipment they need for treatment. It’s not like buying a television or some other non-medical device. When a television is purchased, there are at least recognizable brands and features that everyone knows about or quick research can present.

With our industry, the patient population is just now learning about options and choices. We tout that we have over 50 CPAP masks to choose from and 20 different CPAP machine models. A normal patient can get lost very quickly in that selection. That’s why we attempt to educate and we spend more time on the phone and email and live chats than most non-medical websites ever dream of. 

It is a different environment. Websites like ours are attempting to create a retail environment for CPAP therapy. It’s been done before. Discrete products such as diapers have brand recognition. Patients know which brand they prefer and where to get them. Patients know they can order on an Internet website with complete confidentiality and respect for privacy. The same has been done for diabetic supplies and asthma/allergy supplies. The same is starting to be done for wheelchairs and mobility products. We hope to educate patients that the same is true of CPAP therapy, and in fact, the same for all Durable Medical Equipment (DME).

Let me defend the DME providers here for just a second. We have great respect for the DME providers across the nation. Sometimes patients don’t want choices or are unable to make choices. I know this from personal experience. Six years ago I was involved in a car accident and the injuries to my body left me in a wheelchair for 13 weeks while bones knitted around metal plates and screws. I was never asked what kind of wheelchair I wanted. I never knew the manufacturer of my wheelchair. I never knew the options available to me in terms of padding, reclining ability, assisted movement, height adjustments, foot pedals, or even tire type. My wheelchair experience was temporary and I had little interest in these things. I had a wheelchair at the hospital that I thought was comfortable and asked for the same thing at home. My point is, sometimes patients don’t want to be bombarded by choices. They just want something that works and they don’t want to have to think about it.   However, I would argue that CPAP therapy is different. CPAP is a lifelong adaptation to a patient’s life. The first machine a patient gets may be what someone else chooses for them, but when they start to learn more about products they show much more interest in features, bell and whistles, and comfort. When the world of options is open to a patient at this point, they will normally take notice. That’s where we come in. We have the educational material, the selection, and the knowledge to train and inform patients. Most DME providers do not offer, nor do they have the ability due to warehouse constraints or other inventory restrictions to offer patients every type of CPAP machine or CPAP mask. We can and we do – from CPAP to Auto-CPAP to BiPAP and beyond. We also respect Doctors. If a Doctor has requested a specific mask or specific machine, we can fill that prescription to the letter. However, in most cases, the patient has the ability to choose but doesn’t know it.

Some patients understand how our business model works right from the start. We do not bill insurance companies or government entities for your healthcare supplies. Instead, we offer quality products at reasonable prices. Our best customers are those that have had problems with a national DME provider or an insurance plan in which they disapprove. Arguably, most CPAP patients have health insurance and wish to use their insurance to pay for DME. We understand that. Insurance is supposed to offset the cost of DME, right? Well, for a good number of patients it can be more expensive to both them and the insurance company to use this method of payment. There are a few scenarios where our model is cheaper for the patient:

  • Patients with high deductibles - An average insurance-based price for a CPAP is around $1000. If a patient’s deductible is $1000, the entire cost of this machine is supported by the patient. However, the same CPAP machine on our website may cost $500 or less. Patients quickly realize that they can afford the exact same machine for less. Additionally, the out of pocket cost to a patient can usually be reimbursed against the deductible for the year. The patient benefits from the lower cost while still reducing their deductible allowance.
  • Patients who are forced to rent a machine before purchase - Some insurance companies and/or Medicare require that the patient to rent a machine for a specific period of time with the option to buy the machine at the end of the period. The rental fees quickly add up to more than the retail price of the machine from an Internet retailer.
  • Patients who are not very compliant – Medicare has rules of usage for CPAP therapy and those patients who are not especially compliant to those rules may have the therapy device taken away from them. The normal usage is 4 hours per night for at least 30 nights, but some patients have a hard time meeting these standards. If a patient owns the machine, they can work up to full compliance on their own timeframe and ease themselves into a working plan to use the machine every night.
  • Patients who need an additional CPAP machine – Patients who want a second machine for travelling, alternative residences, or just for a backup are usually denied the purchase by most HMOs. We can offer affordable machines that make that peace of mind quite easy to achieve.
  • Patients who desire choices and options – We have more choices and options for those who wish to be informed and delve into their therapy.

The one thing we know and can relay to our patients and customers is that CPAP therapy is not easy to adjust to, not easy to maintain, and not easy to continue on a nightly basis. We are more than just an Internet retailer. We are the help that patients need. By specializing in CPAP therapy, our website becomes an authority than can be trusted around the nation by CPAP patients. We have the resources that patients require to make good purchasing decisions and we are here as an optional component to the traditional DME provider and insurance billing. Through all the misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist in the healthcare industry, I hope this article helps to shed light on why our company can help you - our trusted and loyal patient.

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