When we think about software “eating the world”, we tend to look at iPhone apps destroying the taxi industry or websites destroying retailers. But there are some incredible, if less sexy, applications for software to really improve upon existing systems, and I believe that Resmed has done a fantastic job of revolutionizing sleep apnea treatment through software. Its competitors are so far behind that I would consider it to be solidly a #winner. With sleep apnea diagnoses skyrocketing alongside the obesity rate, the industry is booming and Resmed is poised to stay in the lead for the foreseeable future.
In 1980, CPAP machines replaced tracheotomies as the standard treatment for sleep apnea. The machines at the time (dominated by Phillips Respironics) worked on one setting, forcing air at a doctor-prescribed specific pressure through a mask into the patient’s nose or mouth to make sure they kept breathing over the course of the night. Repeated, expensive, in-office sleep studies would be necessary every few months to make sure the pressure was at the correct level. Additionally, they were very difficult to exhale into, due to the continuous pressure.
Resmed was the first to create a machine that adapted with the patient, bringing software to the CPAP. Instead of having to go back to the doctor to change the pressure, the machine would monitor breathing and automatically adjust the pressure, within a range. It would even start the pressure low, detect when the patient fell asleep, and then start ramping it up- and relieving the pressure during detected exhalations. A few years later, they brought even more software to the CPAP, with data collection and accessibility to both the patient and wirelessly to the doctor- of every breath and respiratory event over the course of the night. It also sends emails to the patient, congratulating them on successive nights of compliance or informing them that their mask is leaking. All of these features allow consumers to better monitor their own progress, and allow doctors to make more informed recommendations.
While other companies such as Phillips Respironics have tried to catch up, they haven’t managed to match the data capabilities or the accuracy of Resmed’s algorithms. Resmed has also been targeting new demographics- while sleep apnea was once thought of as an overweight men’s disease, Resmed realized that more and more women are being diagnosed- and have different needs. Women’s sleep apnea tends to be more focused during REM sleep, and they have more RERAs (respiratory effort related arousals) and hypopneas than traditional apneas. Resmed’s latest model was designed specifically with women in mind, with a new algorithm tailored to detect and report RERAs- which no other device on the market currently does. As women’s sleep apnea is also more volatile and needs more frequent pressure changes over the course of the night, Resmed’s new device checks the pressure after every breath as opposed to every three breaths. And until very recently, they were the only company providing CPAP masks designed for women’s facial structures.
By bringing advanced software and analytics to a basic medical device, Resmed has increased compliance, reduced unnecessary visits to the doctor, and increased the effectiveness of treatment. They’ve not only transformed hardware, they’ve transformed lives, including mine. The only extra inconvenience is remembering to turn it on airplane mode when I travel!