Devices & Diagnostics

Diagnostics innovation: This patch can tell you whether you have sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is an area that is ripe for healthcare startups to swoop in, innovate and come out strong. California-based Somnarus is putting its hat into the $8 billion ring with a patch that can diagnose sleep apnea. While CPAP compliance is one of the biggest issues for diagnosed sleep apnea patients, diagnosis looms even […]

Sleep apnea is an area that is ripe for healthcare startups to swoop in, innovate and come out strong. California-based Somnarus is putting its hat into the $8 billion ring with a patch that can diagnose sleep apnea. While CPAP compliance is one of the biggest issues for diagnosed sleep apnea patients, diagnosis looms even larger. As much as 80 percent of sleep apnea patients go undiagnosed, Somnarus Founder and CEO Maria Merchant said in an e-mail.

Compared with the industry standard, polysomnography (i.e., overnight sleep lab testing), the SomnaPatch is much less complex and medicalized. The diagnostic can also be done at home. According to a company description: “Only SomnaPatch product combines accuracy and the ease-of-use with guaranteed medical insurance reimbursement and the convenience of in-home delivery.”

“All electronic components of our SomnaPatch device are located inside a miniature, light-weight flexible adhesive patch, which the patient can apply as easily and wear as comfortably as a Band-Aid,” Merchant said in an e-mail. The company’s banking on the “flexible wearable skin patches which track physiological parameters” trend being here to stay. “Being light-weight and comfortable for the patient is critical for gathering data reflective of a typical night’s sleep.”

In fact, some patients find such at-home diagnostics more difficult to deal with than the polysomnography, even with all its wires and the sense of being watched. This patch, if it meets doctors’ standards, could be the ticket to less invasive, more private and cheaper sleep apnea diagnosis.

But the SomnaPatch doesn’t just give a yes or no response. The patch can ID severity of sleep apnea, which could help physicians determine appropriate treatment. If accurate, this could limit the amount of patients who receive positives on at-home tests then need to return to the doc’s to test for CPAP machine settings.

“Our sleep monitoring device and service are designed to make sleep apnea diagnosis inexpensive and very convenient for patients and their physicians. Our goal is to enable more physicians to diagnose sleep apnea and to reach the currently undiagnosed patients.”

It’s diagnosis that can take the cost out of care, she said.

“The consequences of untreated sleep apnea are dire. Patients develop high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and depression, to name a few. When sleep apnea is diagnosed early and treated, these consequences can be prevented and the healthcare costs are reduced dramatically,” she said in an e-mail. “The key is timely diagnosis.”

While Merchant wouldn’t get into the nitty gritty of numbers or names of investment details, she said the company has received funding from private investors and government grants.

Merchant has an MBA from Wharton and a background in biophysics and photo-sensor technology.

The company has patented its technology, clinically validated it compared to polysomnography and is putting its device through testing. Its innovation was a recent finalist for MedTech Idol, and was to pitch at a Venture-Med Angel Group Nov. 26. “Somnarus is currently pursuing regulatory approvals for its products,” Merchant said in the e-mail. For SomnaPatch, they’ll go the 510(k) route.

If all goes according to plan, the not-yet 2-year-old company could have SomnaPatch on the market in the second half of 2014.

Follow MedCity News on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.