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Stripping out the cost

New devices provide screening for sleep apnea at home.

If you or your doctor think you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you need to get it checked out.  Your life may depend on it.  The standard diagnostic tool is an overnight sleep study at a sleep clinic.  You'll be wired up with numerous sensors all over your body and a sleep technician will monitor you as you sleep. 

A sleep study is great if your insurance will cover it and if you can wait several weeks for the clinic's next available opening.    But if you do not have insurance, you're looking at a $1200-3000 medical bill.  And you're probably asking: isn't there a way I can do this at home more cheaply?

Well, some at-home diagnostic tools are now emerging.  All still need a doctor's prescription. One is the NovaSom QSG, marketed by Sleep Solutions. This consists of a bedside monitoring device attached to three sensors: a chest sensor, a breath sensor and a finger sensor. You strap yourself up, push the start button on the machine and go to sleep.  In the morning, the device will have collected a wealth of data that the manufacturers claim is equivalent to the data that would have been gathered at a sleep clinic.

Sleep Solutions says it has shipped more than a thousand devices to patients since introducing the product in January 2001.  (It was originally called the BedBugg until their marketing folks figured out that you needed a serious name to gain credibility.) The price is about half the cost of a sleep study and the company is having some success getting insurance companies to pay for the tests.  Contact them directly for a doctor in your area familiar with the Novasom OSG.

An order of magnitude less expensive still -- under $100 -- is the SleepStrip, marketed by an Israeli company, SLP Ltd. This sensor attaches to the patient's upper lip and monitors respirations overnight. SLP says the data correlates well with formal sleep studies and, given its low cost, could be used as a screening device to tell doctors whether a full-blown sleep study is required.

The SleepStrip was introduced to the U.S. in 2001 with mixed success -- one distributor told Put an End to Snoring that patients found it difficult to use, with the result that replacement products often had to be shipped. SLP believes it has fixed the problems and has distribution agreements with Medline in the U.S.

Most recently, another Israeli company, Itamar Medical, has received FDA approval for a device which tracks your heart rate and oxygen saturation through a simple sensor attached to your finger.  The product is called the Watch_PAT100, and it measures something called the PAT (Peripheral Arterial Tone) signal, which apparently reflects what's going on with your autonomic nervous system. 

Watch_PAT100 is available in the U.S. through SleepQuest.  If the Watch_PAT100 does prove reliable in screening for OSA, this will clearly be an attractive option for many patients: it's a lot easier to put a sensor on your finger than carefully position something on your face.  Easier to sleep that way too.

Will your insurance pay for this?  That's unknown -- tell us your experience.



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