In communities like Reddit’s 22,000-member strong sleep apnea subreddit, which is growing at 40% each year, members commonly trade tips on the best way to get a specific diagnosis that optimizes for insurance coverage.
A growing trend, health companies have inverted the typical medical model by essentially offering prescriptions as a service. Rather than doctors making diagnoses then suggesting a treatment, consumers are increasingly doing their own research and using doctors largely as gatekeepers. Some have termed the trend “restaurant-menu medicine”.
Navigating the US healthcare system is partly a process of understanding symptoms and treatments, and partly a process of getting insurance companies to pay. At-home sleep studies are a growing trend that leans into the reversal of the traditional process for getting medical treatment.
Sleep studies typically take place in a lab, where study participants have sensors attached that monitor their sleep overnight to measure breathing and see how many times they wake up. These can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and expensive. But perhaps more importantly, sleep labs are able to choose two different ways of scoring the same data, one of which results in much higher rates of sleep apnea diagnosis. While patients might be reluctant to ask a clinician about scoring in-person, or suggest a different scoring metric, they can find an at-home study that scores using the criteria more likely to get them the diagnosis they want.
With the ideal diagnosis in hand, patients can then legally buy devices like CPAP machines. CPAP accessories on Amazon have racked up millions of sales, but the devices themselves are nowhere to be found on the world’s most popular ecommerce site, as the prescription is needed.
A growing number of companies are looking to lean into this market dislocation in order to drive business. Lofta, a popular CPAP provider, sells a sleep test specifically designed to help customers get the sleep apnea diagnosis, then funnels them to purchase a CPAP sold by Lofta.
Other industries are also increasingly using free tests to hook consumers before going in for the main sell – from internet speed tests for selling routers to online hearing tests for selling hearing aids, website speed tests for selling developer tools, and GPU stress tests for selling computer components.