Special Focus on Portable Oxygen
02 On The Go
How can respiratory providers help their long-term oxygen therapy patients travel?
- By Holly J. Wagner
- Mar 23, 2020
Traveling with oxygen itsn’t rocket science – at least not yet. As long as travelers are earthbound, there’s a specific set of concerns to traveling with oxygen that apply across transportation modes, and a few that are particular to one or another.
Portable Oxygen Concentrators (POCs) were developed to increase patient mobility, comfort and convenience. It’s only natural that patients would want to take that on the road. It’s possible to travel with bulkier gear if necessary, but POCs allow the greatest mobility.
It’s a pretty safe bet that POC travelers won’t be climbing Mt. Everest. But most other trips are an option. Some carriers even rent on-board oxygen equipment, but that’s usually expensive. Oxygen patients need support on weekends with the grandchildren, airline hops, cross-country car trips and trains, too.
As a rule, the patient will want the lightest-weight and most comfortable POC that meets his or her needs. That applies across transportation types, but is also important for activities that involve walking or bus tours, which are common to tour packages.
“The first requirement is a POC that delivers the highest purity of oxygen. The POC should be easy to use, reliable and quiet,” says Philip Geancoupoulos, marketing manager for Precision Medical.
Types of Travel
Cruising is by far the easiest way for oxygen patients to travel. Outlets for charging POCs are plentiful aboard ships, backup equipment may be available in case of a mechanical issue, and there are even clinician-managed travel groups that make all the necessary arrangements for oxygen-dependent cruiser members.
“There are these groups that are set up for traveling with oxygen,” Geancoupoulos says. “For example, there’s Better Breathers Clubs that cruise. These groups work with respiratory therapists that fit patients with their needs. They help with oxygen from start to finish.”
Airlines routinely work with POC patients. Their requirements are similar but have key variations, so it’s best to contact the individual carrier. Most airlines require FAA-approved equipment, and many have their own rules as well.
Amtrak has a web page devoted to oxygen travelers. The passenger rail company requires at least 4 hours of battery power and UL or FM listed devices only, but also accommodates up to two 50-pound or six 20-pound oxygen tanks for those who need bulkier supply systems. Many train systems overseas have accommodations for passenger assistance, but what’s available varies a lot from country to country and carrier to carrier.
Car travel is similar to other kinds of travel, but a lot more flexible for travelers. They can schedule stops and be sure to stay in places where they can charge batteries. Patients should make sure to have extra charged batteries and a phone number for a manufacturer rep handy – not packed under suitcases in the trunk.
Planning ahead is the key. Patients should contact their physicians when they are planning a trip, not after the plans are in place. It’s important that your clients notify you as well.
“First, if the patient informs the provider that he or she is traveling, the provider can proactively address preventative maintenance items such as batteries before the patient leaves town,” says Nick Jacobs, senior director or respiratory at Invacare. “Batteries, just like the oil in your car, only last so long before they need to be replaced.”
Resources on the Road
VGM members have free access to the
company’s Freedom Link, a network with companies that specialize in renting and shipping POCs all over the nation. The service takes DME referrals and helps patients rent equipment that matches their needs and travel plans.
“The benefit of using Freedom Link for short or long term boils down to ‘timesaver,’” says Brad Werkmeister, associate vice president at VGM Freedom Link. “The amount of time and calls we make to help our members’ patients find the equipment they need is significant. Our team will call and try to get the best pricing for short-term service. If long-term service is needed, meaning ‘moving patient,’ we help find who is in-network with insurance and call until no one’s left to call because of the capped patient problem.
“We staff four full-time employees to help coordinate travelers’ oxygen from the time they leave their home until they arrive at their destination,” Werkmeister continues. “Our team will help coordinate O2 service with a provider in or near the patient’s destination as a backup in case of damage or failure.”
Even with the best planning, something can go wrong. That’s why patients should have a phone number to contact a manufacturer rep wherever they plan to visit.
“From time to time Philips has gotten calls from Europe, Japan or other parts of the world where [patients] have had a problem and we were able to refer them to one of our vendors,” says Frank Lazzaro, director of global product management for Philips Sleep & Respiratory Care.
Precision has also mobilized field reps to respond to problems. “In the past week we have directly assisted a patient with a replacement while they are traveling,” Geancoupoulos says. “Overseas, we have international distributors who can help out as well. We have an 800 number for customer service, so if a customer has a problem we will try our best.”
Recent advancements in remote monitoring are a game-changer for oxygen patients who travel, providers said.
“If a technical issue does arise with the equipment while the patient is traveling, the provider can provide remote diagnosis and troubleshooting with a connected POC,” he explains. “With non-connected POCs, remote diagnosis and troubleshooting can be challenging as the provider must rely on the patient to accurately describe what is happening with the equipment. This is taking place when patient anxiety is at its highest due to the fear of running out of oxygen. Remote monitoring helps to provide peace of mind for patients and providers alike.”
Jim Clement of GCE Group agrees: “With our device, we are a global platform. Our device reports back. Not all of the devices are global. The benefits for a patient, imagine them stuck in the airport in Rome and the device is giving an alert? We can talk them through what might be a very simple problem,” he says. “GCE is kind of unique – we have manufacturing and repair facilities in Europe so we are able to help in certain instances, depending on the country or location.”
Travel season offers DME providers an opportunity for customer outreach. An email of helpful travel tips for POC patients lets you offer stellar service at home, and promote any support you offer when patients are away. It’s an opportunity to highlight your service and provide links to travel tip pages of manufacturers you sell.
Holly Wagner is a freelancer writer covering a variety of industries, including healthcare.