I have severe COPD and am on oxygen 24 hours a day. I have not seen my grandchildren or children in 9 years because I cannot go on planes with oxygen tanks. I contacted my insurance company to see if they would help me get a POC (Portable Oxygen Concentrator) but they said “no way.” They had given me the big concentrator and the tank regulator and will do no more. I was told it is not their problem.
Now I am going to try to purchase one on my own, but they are so expensive! I remember buying new cars for less than these things cost. I have done a lot of research online that is confusing to me. When I speak to the dealers (that is what they’re called ) about POCs, it is like talking to the car salesmen of old. I try to find out as much as I can about the product, but I feel I am getting ambiguous and sometimes false answers. I can only hear commission in their voices.
Please help me understand the lingo, I want to make the right choice for me.
–Stuck on a Mountain
We have written a couple articles about the very situation you are describing. People often think that the numbers on a portable oxygen concentrator are liter flow. In reality this is often not true. The numbers are just what you said…settings. For example, a setting of 2 on some POCs might in reality be only a liter and a half. This practice by the manufacturers could be misleading and in some cases, dangerous. If a person requires a specific liter flow and is not familiar with the machine, they could have it set wrong and become under-saturated. The COPD Foundation, along with the American Association of Respiratory Therapists (AARC), are beginning work that hopefully will lead to standardization within the industry. It is our belief that the numbers on the POCs should represent the liter flow and not settings.
Another factor that is often misunderstood concerns pulse units, mainly two issues: 1.) At what point during the breathing cycle the oxygen is released, and 2.) the amount of oxygen in each dose. If the oxygen is released late in the cycle, the patient may not get the full benefit, likewise if the individual dose is too small the same occurs.
What your letter did not say is if you were looking at pulse dose (demand) machines or continuous flow. Which type of unit you require will significantly narrow down your choices. As far as the liter flow, probably the easiest way to get an approximate (and understandable) idea of what the unit is putting out related to the settings is to try this: Take the units maximum liter flow and divide it by the number of settings. For example, if the unit is rated for 3 LPM and has six settings, each setting should increase the liter flow by .5. So, a setting of one should be ½ LPM and a setting of 2 should be 1 LPM and so on. Granted this is probably not the most accurate way to determine this, but it should get you in the “ballpark.”
What source of oxygen do you plan to use at your destination? If you require constant flow at night, then the unit you select should be capable of providing this. Keep in mind, if your doctor says you are able to use a pulse dose concentrator, you will have greater mobility as these units are usually much smaller and lighter, but may not work for you for night time use.
Some concentrators work better at high elevations than others. Check on the website www.portableoxygen.org and you will find the chart that breaks down the information on many different POCs as well as listing their altitude limitations.
As for purchasing a unit, you are certainly right that they can be expensive. There are distributors out there that offer factory reconditioned units at great savings. What I would caution you against is purchasing a unit through a private sale or on sites like Craig’s List or EBay. Unless you know the person selling the unit, and have personal knowledge as to how the unit was cared for, you are greatly increasing your risk of getting a defective unit. Repairs on these units can be very expensive, and the batteries do have a short life span, especially if they are not kept charged.
Whatever unit you purchase, make sure that you are given a trial period to be sure the unit is working properly, and more importantly saturates you properly. When testing out the unit, carry a pulse oxygen meter with you to see what your oxygen saturations are with the unit. It is also possible in many cases to rent a unit if you will not be doing a lot of traveling. Renting a unit, particularly one you are interested in purchasing will allow you the opportunity to see if that particular unit is right for you. Please read through our other ask the coach letters to find any other information we may have missed here.
One last thought, make sure the unit has a higher capacity than you presently need should your oxygen requirements change in the future.
If we can be of any further help, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
–The COPD Coach
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.
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