If you've just received the results of your sleep study and discovered you need CPAP(or some other version of PAP therapy) to treat your sleep apnea, you may be surprised to find there are several ways to go about sourcing and purchasing your equipment and supplies.
Shopping for CPAP
To help you decide how to best prepare to shop for your equipment, you may wish to ask yourself these questions:
Does my insurance policy restrict my purchases in any way?
Is it cheaper to pay cash up front?
Would it be more practical to rent-to-own my CPAP machine?
Do I need very specific features for my CPAP mask or CPAP machine?
How soon do I need my equipment?
Might I need a service agreement?
How important is it for me to shop around?
There are three main ways you can source and purchase your CPAP equipment and supplies: through a DME provider, an online CPAP supply store, or a large discount retailer.
Durable medical equipment (DME) providers
Many sleep centers, whether they are associated with hospitals or function independently, work with durable medical equipment (DME) providers, who stock the machines, supplies, and spare parts necessary to outfit you for PAP therapy.
These providers, commonly referred to as "DMEs," are used to working in tandem with prescribing doctors and patients' insurance companies to make the purchase and delivery of equipment painless and speedy. In addition, they are excellent service providers and can help you with questions and concerns regarding any aspect of your CPAP experience.
They know the "ins and outs" of mask fitting, PAP compliance, machine settings, and more, and they can offer useful tips and tricks to ensure you get your CPAP therapy off to a smooth start.
DMEs may charge more for their equipment than retailers, but some patients find this added expense beneficial because of the customer service they also provide. They also stock the most popular and high-demand CPAP supplies and spares so that you don't have to wait to replace, order, or repair anything.
Online CPAP supply stores
There are a number of online retailers who specialize in sales of CPAP machines, masks, equipment, supplies, and parts. They all require a prescription in order to sell you a CPAP machine.
These shops may be a good choice for someone who has been using PAP for a while and just needs to pick up a replacement mask or filters for their machine.
One of the biggest benefits of shopping online is the huge choice of products offered. In addition, prices can be lower and shipping can be free.
However, not all online suppliers work with insurance, which may make this purchasing route more complicated for you. They also don't offer the same quality of customer service that a DME provides, though some do have hotlines you can call to speak with a representative.
However, working with PAP can often require a more "hands on" experience with customer service. While the reps at an online store may be helpful, they may not have the extensive training in sleep technology that a DME can offer. Keep in mind, broken equipment will also require delivery for both servicing and replacement, which means potential time away from therapy that should be used daily.
Large discount retailers
Some large "big box" or discount retail chains have joined the effort to provide medical equipment to consumers.
As with online retailers, these large stores do not always work with insurance, and their provisions may be limited to items that do not require a prescription (depending upon whether they have pharmacy arrangements).
While there are dozens of options for machines and supplies, most large retailers may only stock a handful. Still, prices will be lower.
The chance you'll find a staff person knowledgeable about the intricacies of PAP therapy and CPAP masks, however, is rather slim. On the other hand, if you just need to replace some tubing or get a new chin support, and plan to pay cash, this might be the way to go.
Where NOT to buy your CPAP equipment
Let common sense be your guide. Avoid buying your personal medical products, new or used, at the following venues:
Garage sales, rummage sales, or swap meets
Through e-commerce sites like eBay or CraigsList
Anyone who is not licensed to sell medical equipment
Not only will your purchases lack warranties or service agreements, but the actual equipment will not be customized to your specific needs. Also, needless to say, it's unsafe and unhygienic to use someone else's medical supplies. Masks, built-in filters, and CPAP tubing can collect microorganisms, machines may not have CPAP settings appropriate for your condition (which could worsen your apnea), and warranties are nullified.
This is also why you should never borrow CPAP machines or supplies from friends or family.
Many patients find the ease of working with the DME a major reason to shop for their equipment through these providers. Not only do they get their equipment quickly, but they often have good relationships with insurers, and the staff are trained medical technicians who can help with therapy challenges and provide supplies when it's time to replenish them.
Meanwhile, seasoned CPAP users may find the prices at retailers lower and the choices online broader than the scope of what a DME can offer from their warehouses. And major retailers who stock filters and other replaceables may be the most convenient option you have.