Sleep Apnea: The New Cholesterol

October 21, 2010

The October issue of Start-Up magazine includes an article on growth opportunities in the 25-year old field of sleep medicine – an enormous group of serious and chronic diseases that remain largely undiagnosed.

One of these diseases – sleep apnea – has strong links to cardiovascular conditions (atherosclerosis, myocardial infarcation, hypertension, stroke, and heart failure) and metabolic disorders (obesity and diabetes).  Sean Heyniger, CEO of Watermark Medical (a portfolio company of ours) likens it to “cholesterol 30 years ago,” as it is “both a risk factor of and an agent that worsens other progressive and chronic diseases.”

The most common current diagnosis and therapy are expensive and suffer from a high failure rate – 50% of patients abandon treatment within the first year.  Even those who stay with the treatment regime fail to meet very low compliance standards, through misapplication of the device or removal of same in the middle of the night.

Watermark provides a medical device and software platform which empowers primary care physicians to prescribe home sleep tests, addressing the 90% of patients with undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).  The advantages to home-based sleep testing are simple:  increased patient comfort and compliance, improved diagnostic speed and accuracy, and lower cost.  Home-based, end-to-end, diagnostic-to-therapy platforms are a growing trend in health care.  Sean and his team at Watermark are already experienced in providing home-based monitoring from their success at PDSHeart (a previous portfolio company in our first BPV fund), a leader in the remote cardiac monitoring space.

The New York Times covered this “broad transformation”  last May in High-Tech Alternatives to High-Cost Care.  The Times singles out Watermark as exemplifying the promise of these changes:

…an array of technology-enabled, consumer-based services that provide a new form or primary health care [that] emphasize early detection, prevention, and management of chronic disease.

As insurers and the government begin to reimburse at-home testing and monitoring devices, the trend promises to: 

shift a lot of the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of disease from hospitals and specialized clinics, where treatment is expensive, to primary care physicians and patients themselves — at far less cost.

The article further concludes that additional chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes could also someday be monitored by Web-based personal devices similar to Watermarks’ ARES (Apnea Risk Evaluation System).  It is exciting to partner with entrepreneurs like Sean who are at the forefront of efforts to use the latest technology to simultaneously increase the quality and reduce the cost of health care in this country.

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