To paraphrase a reader question, what role will auto-CPAP play in the future?
Auto-CPAP is basically CPAP that is self-adjusting based on the patient's pressure needs (various manufacturers have different alogorithms to monitor airlow). There are 3 main ways to use auto-CPAP:
1. Some patients who undergoe an in-lab regular CPAP titration are found to have large pressure difference needs between different body positions or sleep stages. In these cases, the patient can be prescribed auto-CPAP within a preset pressure range. For example, if someone needs a pressure of 6 during stage 2 sleep and 10 during REM, he might be prescribed an auto-CPAP machine that was set to automatically adjust between 6 and 10.
2. A patient could just skip the in-lab titration and be sent home with an auto-cpap machine for permanent use. The pressure range might initially be set at 4-20 and then gradually narrowed based on the data generated by the auto-cpap machine.
3. Instead of an in-lab titration, a patient could be loaned an auto-cpap machine for a few days to use at home. Based on the data generated by the machine, the patient could be prescribed a regular fixed pressure cpap machine.
Most sleep specialists, including myself, do option 1 at times. Some sleep specialists will do options 2 and 3 occasionally, but this requires close patient follow up and in my opinion is not appropriate for widespread use, nor for use by non-specialists. If options 2 and 3 become more widespread it would reduce the number of titration studies done by sleep labs and have a negative financial impact on the sleep testing industry.
A reader asked about reimbursement for options 2 and 3:
I am not directly involved in the DME business, so I don't know exactly what the profit margin is on cpap and auto-cpap machines. For option #2, the physician would collect standard office visit fees and the DME company would sell the patient an auto-cpap machine. Currently, most insurance companies reimburse auto cpap machines (for permanent home use) at the same amount as a standard cpap machine. I have been told by DME companies that they lose money every time they do this.
For option #3, usually the patient (at least in my area) is not charged for borrowing the auto-cpap machine (from the DME company) for a few days for an at-home auto-cpap titration. The DME makes its money by then selling the patient a regular cpap machine. The physician charges standard office visit codes.