Portable Oxygen on the Rise
Portable oxygen equipment has only been on the market for about seven years. It is a fragmented sector, with a dozen or so manufacturers that currently supply portable oxygen concentrators (POCs). Reliability has been a concern in the past, but the newest generation of products is more dependable and opens the door for a shift away from the traditional HME model of oxygen delivery.
Compared with the mature technology of stationary oxygen concentrators, it is unrealistic to expect the same level of reliability in a portable device, according to Chris LaPorte, Invacare’s business manager for portable oxygen concentrators. It’s not surprising that in the current market, the reliability of POCs has not been what providers had hoped, LaPorte says.
“The stationary concentrator is a more simplistic device and very reliable. You turn it on and it runs,” he says. In contrast, a portable concentrator has computer components, variable settings and power inputs, encounters shifting environments and can even get “banged up” because of its portability.
“We have already moved forward with reliability since POCs were introduced seven years ago. The current products are the best ever, and future products will be even more robust,” LaPorte says. Improvements include changes to mounting systems and connection points to better withstand use. “Smaller devices take a system that’s tried and true and squeeze it into a much smaller device, and it’s a challenge,” he adds.
The portable oxygen sector now offers products in smaller, lighter packages that are more powerful and more clinically and operationally robust. “There are always tradeoffs,” he says. Battery life is one tradeoff, and development continues on batteries that last longer and weigh less. Battery developments from other markets, such as cell phones and laptops, are driving economies of scale and could benefit oxygen concentrators in the future, according to LaPorte.
“Hopefully, down the road you will see batteries that weigh less and are more powerful, or that weigh the same and have three times the life,” he says.
Invacare offers both the SOLO2 portable continuous flow oxygen concentrator, which weighs about 20 pounds and is transported using a wheeled cart. The XPO2 concentrator, which provides pulsed-dose only, is a six-pound device that can be carried over the shoulder or in a backpack. In addition to POCs, Invacare also offers a “home fill system” that works with an oxygen concentrator to fill portable cylinders. Invacare developed the device 12 years ago and remains the dominant player.