Individual patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are also healthcare consumers who consider purchasing options when it comes to medical supplies.
You may have wondered, just as they have: What about buying used equipment? Or borrowing it?
Why Might Someone Buy or Borrow Used CPAP Equipment?
The main reason people might opt out of buying brand-new equipment intended for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, is to save money. After a sleep study confirms that you are suffering from sleep apnea, one of the first thoughts is the expenses you’ll incur with treatment.
It’s certainly true that a new sleep apnea device can be expensive, but it is what any experienced medical practitioner will recommend. This illustrates the rise in the online resale of used “sleep apnea machines” through eBay and Craigslist.
A used CPAP machine initially seems like a harmless way to reduce one’s out-of-pocket medical costs. It’s equally appealing to see a used CPAP machine for sale at a garage sale and think it’s probably okay to buy.
But there’s plenty of good reasons to avoid that “garage sale CPAP” and the allure of lower prices that come with used CPAP machines. After all, you’re trying to manage an illness: not add another.
What Do You Actually Get When You Buy a Used CPAP Machine?
Put simply: Used medical equipment, including CPAP supplies and machines, has already been contaminated by another person’s use. So: can your CPAP cause other illnesses.
Any harmful substance still inside came from their lungs and mouth, or their surroundings, every time they used it.
Given that CPAP machines are warm, moist environments, they provide the perfect breeding ground for hosting pathogens like yeast, mold, bacteria, viruses, and mildew. They also have small nooks and crannies where tiny household pests can hide and lay eggs.
In hospitals, pasteurization of equipment in a highly regulated and controlled environment makes it safe for reuse. However, at home, this is a different matter. With brand-new machines, one must be vigilant about keeping them clean, even when the germs are all yours. However, if you buy a used CPAP machine, how can you know it was maintained meticulously by the previous owner? Is it worth the gamble?
Any of the following might happen if you use a previously owned CPAP machine that has not been appropriately maintained and sterilized:
Respiratory infections (both viral and bacterial)
Infections in other parts of the body
Bedbugs or cockroaches (if the CPAP machine was previously used in an infested area)
What’s more, even if the previous user cleaned their machine regularly and kept their household dusted and vacuumed, and didn’t have pets that might have interacted with the device. They still might have used alcohol, perfumed soaps, or bleach that could irritate your lungs and make you sick.
If that’s not bad enough, what about the hygienic handling of the used CPAP machine and supplies from the sales warehouse? How sterile are those conditions, and what kinds of irritants, pollutants, or pathogens hitched a ride on your used equipment’s trip to your house from the point of purchase?
Warranty and replacement issues: a risky investment
If you buy a “like new” machine that is older, it may have already been replaced by a newer model. The older model’s replacement parts and disposable filters may no longer be available. If you can’t replace a crucial part of your CPAP setup, it won’t work.
Buyer Beware: Just as with used cars or other mechanical items, you get what you pay for. Used products don’t have guarantees of functionality, and their warranties are void. Warranties are also voided if you or an unlicensed used CPAP sales company tamper with your device
You could buy a used CPAP machine for half the price of a new one today, and it could work one night, then malfunction, and you would not be able to return it or repair it. You may spend more than double the initial cost of new durable medical equipment by trying to find discounts.
Compromised Ability for Sleep Specialists to Check Results and Troubleshoot Problems
Your used machine doesn’t have the up-to-date apnea software and hardware necessary for your DME and sleep specialist to track your results.
These features are critical to measuring your therapy’s effectiveness and your compliance success rate, which is vital to insurers and Medicare.
If you aren’t showing improvement and your doctor cannot track your usage to determine why you could run up against obstacles not only with your treatment but with insurance issues down the road.
What’s more, a CPAP machine with incorrectly set pressures can do more damage than good.
Doctors can’t help you if you don’t follow their orders. If they have a specific type of equipment they use, it will require a particular patient interface that you won’t have if you use a machine they don’t prescribe.
Also, a practical concern: companies willing to sell you used machines without a prescription will not present your pressure settings for you. Will you be able to do so? If not, what then?
Using medical equipment can be complicated. Your CPAP settings should be unique to your needs. One size does not fit all.
If you buy your equipment used, you lose the benefit of the service agreements that DMEs or manufacturers can provide, should problems arise. With used equipment, you’re on your own.
In the US, it is illegal to sell a CPAP machine without a prescription.
The FDA sets up regulations like these to prevent unsafe, “black market” practices when it comes to consumer purchases of durable medical equipment. This is a protection for you, the consumer.
Online auction websites no longer offer CPAP machines because of these FDA regulations. CPAP machines are now only sold by licensed providers, and they can only provide CPAP machines to those presenting valid medical prescriptions written by qualified health professionals.
Federal law categorizes CPAP devices as Class II, meaning they require a prescription for distribution. Class II is assigned based on risk assessment and regulatory controls established by the FDA to provide a reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness.