Don’t leave sleep apnea untreated, GEM Specialty Health warns

Anna Vod · September 12, 2023 · Short URL:

The startup just closed its $5M seed round to advance GEM Sleep solution for sleep apnea patients

Emotional state, reasoning, reaction time, productivity, memory, muscular power, body weight, blood pressure. These are just a few reasons to maintain a healthy dose of sleep nightly. But there are several disorders obstructing sleep that can go unrecognized for years. The one we look at today – sleep apnea – goes undiagnosed in 80% out of about 30 million Americans with the disorder.

Sleep apnea occurs when your upper airway gets blocked repeatedly during sleep and reduces or stops the airflow, jerking you out of sleep. When untreated, obstructive sleep apnea is likely to get worse over time, can lead to chronic oxygen deprivation and result in significant health risks, topped with a poor quality of life. Unfortunately, under the existing lab-based diagnosis, patients have to wait months before getting treated.

The founder and CEO of GEM Specialty Health, Brian Sauer, experienced the shortcomings of the system firsthand before founding the company in 2022. Now, the entrepreneur with 20+ years in the healthcare industry under his belt seeks to improve the quality of life of sleep apnea patients and shorten the time for getting treatment to several days with his startup’s first product, GEM Sleep.

"We started in obstructive sleep apnea because we witnessed firsthand the tradeoff many patients were making with regards to their care – trying to decide if they should go to traditional providers and wait 3-4 months for care or try an online option that does not accept insurance and may not have clinical rigor. Millions of patients just give up and continue to live with OSA," Sauer said in a statement Monday.

"Patients do not want to have to choose between convenient, clinically sound, and insurance-covered. They want all those things in a single experience. We are proud to say that GEM has built this model and will be rapidly scaling it with the support of our latest investment."

On Monday, Minneapolis-based GEM Specialty Health announced it closed its $5 million seed fundraising. HealthTrend Capital led the round; co-investors were Base10 Partners and Mairs & Power Venture Capital. Bill Brinkman, managing partner at HealthTrend, and Sam Meckey, CEO of UpHealth, joined the board of GEM Specialty.

GEM Sleep offers patients an at-home test, which involves wearing a device on the wrist and the index finger during sleep. The device, WatchPAT, is mailed to the patient and links to a cellphone for how-to-use tutorials and the following assessment. The results, reviewed by GEM’s clinicians virtually, determine whether the patient has sleep apnea and the kind of treatment s/he should receive.

As a solution, GEM offers two treatments which it says are custom-made. One is CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure mask that goes over the nose and blows air, keeping the back of the throat open. Another treatment GEM offers is a dental device that holds the jaw slightly forward, thus opening the airway.

And while both the CPAP and oral devices have been around for some time, it’s the ease of access that makes GEM stand out. The company argues that laboratory-based sleep studies are unnecessary for the majority of people who don’t suffer from more serious medical conditions. Meanwhile, GEM has already partnered with insurance providers.

So, don’t take lightly your significant other’s remarks about your snoring. While it doesn’t necessary indicate sleep apnea, it may be the first signal, so look at other symptoms. If, in addition to that, you get up tired in the morning, have a sore throat, and feel lethargic throughout the day, it might be cause for concern.

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