Portable Oxygen: A User's Perspective

Motoring with Oxygen

Introduction The Cost of Travel
Preparing for Travel Author Comments
Using an Inverter Index

Portable Oxygen: A User's Perspective
Motoring With Oxygen

The information here provided is for educational purposes only and it is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your own physician or healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition

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We are living in an age of better communications, more reliable technology and improved medications. Those of us on oxygen should feel empowered by these advances to visit far off relatives and friends and see more of our wonderful nation.

I have brought together in this article information to show you that travel by motor vehicle with oxygen can be a reality. What you will find here is information about planning for trips to make them safe and enjoyable experiences at a low cost.

I could have just given you my personal experiences about traveling with oxygen. During the past three years I have made frequent RV (Recreation Vehicle) trips, visiting 30 states, while using both compressed and liquid oxygen. 

As with all the articles at my website however, I chose to conduct the basic underlying research that is necessary to provide you with reliable information. I have spoken with a number of oxygen providers and manufacturers during the development of this article. All have graciously provided me with information. You will see many of my sources recognized later in this article with a link to their websites.

But, I would also like to include personal experiences of others on oxygen who have traveled. You will see comments by several travelers in this section, including this first by Lance. Lance read this section and suggested that I include information about traveling by train. He said :

I had a very enjoyable trip via Amtrak and automobile this past July, going from St. Louis, MO to Los Vegas and back. Amtrak's round trip was from St. Louis to Kingman, AZ. From there I traveled by auto to Los Vegas and back to Kingman. I took a Helios portable and a 21 liter reservoir. I used oxygen directly from the reservoir on the train ride except when I moved about the train to the lounge and the dining cars. The reservoir normally weighs 90 pounds when filled. I had to have it filled to a maximum gross weight of 75 pounds to conform to Amtrak requirements. It was filled in St. Louis and topped off at Las Vegas, NV and in Farming ton, NM on the way back. When I reached Kingman, I had the reservoir loaded into the back seat of an automobile for the trip to Los Vegas. There, I used it in my room and used Helios as I moved about the hotel and city. I took along a two-wheeled dolly and bungy cords to facilitate moving the reservoir. 
Lance suggests that you look at AMTRACK for information about traveling on their trains with oxygen.

So, with that, let us begin with motor travel..

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Preparing for Travel

You should be aware that oxygen cannot be delivered across state lines. This means that a trip simply across a nearby state line requires the same preplanning as a trip across the country. I have a personal example for you.
On Thanksgiving Day last year, my wife and I drove from our home in Virginia to a friend's home an hour's drive away in Maryland. When we arrived I discovered that, because of a defective cylinder, I did not have sufficient oxygen to last through the visit. 

I had not filed a trip report with my oxygen provider so the Maryland branch did not have my prescription and therefore could not service me. I spent much of that visit quietly seated with my oxygen off. Later, I met my oxygen provider at the Virginia office for a refill on the way home.

So, plan your travel ahead of time, even if it is just a day's trip to a neighboring state.

Preplanning is making certain you pack up and move with you all the resources you depend upon at home, and arranging for oxygen equipment and services along the way and at your destination. Begin by meeting with your physician and oxygen provider.

1. Discuss your travel plans with your physician, particularly travel at higher elevations, and renew and refill any prescriptions that might expire while you are away. 

2. Work with your oxygen provider to set up a schedule of oxygen services that you will require during travel and to receive advice about the safe transport of oxygen in your vehicle.

Here are some sources of information about preplanning. See Travel Assistance Tips under Customers & Visitors at Lincare's website. and the Great Escapes Travel Program at Apria 's website.

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Using a Inverter

You may want to take your concentrator with you to supply your oxygen while you travel in your motor vehicle. If your RV or conversion van has an auxiliary generator, you may be able to run your concentrator from it. In any other vehicle, you may be able to run your concentrator off of the vehicle's engine through an inverter. Check with the manufacturer of your concentrator before running it from a generator or through an inverter. 

In a recent article in News from NHOPA , a subscriber and oxygen user from Anaheim, California, tells you the following:

If you have a full size car, a conversion van, or SUV, your vehicle probably has an electrical system that can support a concentrator. Your concentrator would be powered by your vehicle's alternator through an inverter while at the same time the alternator would provide current to the vehicle's other electrical systems. You should check with your mechanic or auto dealer to be certain your vehicle can support this additional requirement before purchasing and installing an inverter.
Most concentrators are rated at about 400 watts. The wattage requirement of yours is marked on its side. Because house voltage is 110 volts, only about 3.6 amps (400 watts divided by 110 volts) of house current is required. 

Because your vehicle's alternator produces just 12 volts, the alternator needs to produce 33 amps (400 watts divided by 12 volts) to the inverter. For an inverter rated at 90 percent efficient, that's 37 amps (33/.90). So, an inverter rated at 444 watts (12 volts x 37 amps) meets this minimum requirement. Most users however select and install inverters rated at 600 watts or above. 

If you use your concentrator on the road, here are some words of advice.

  • Inform your oxygen provider of your travel plans. Your provider can tell you who to contact on the road should you have a mechanical problem with your concentrator.
  • Strap down your concentrator so it will not slide around while traveling.
  • Your concentrator needs to draw a lot of air, so keep its intake ports clear of obstacles. Keep the back windows of the motor vehicle closed so the concentrator does not draw air containing exhaust fumes.
  • Your concentrator and the inverter generate a lot of heat. Adjust the air conditioning or open windows accordingly.
  • Always have a compressed or liquid oxygen backup close at hand. You will need your backup when you cut off your engine or generator. Both must be turned off while refueling.
  • If your engine overheats on hot days or is sluggish in hilly or mountainous areas, you should be prepared to turn off your concentrator and use your backup oxygen source.
  • Keep an eye on your gas gauge. Most RVs are designed so that the generator runs out of gasoline before the vehicle's engine does. 
  • Temperatures in an unattended vehicle can be extreme. Check with the manufacturer of your concentrator before starting your concentrator when temperature in the vehicle are very hot or below freezing.
Most concentrators are about 18 inches wide, 14 inches deep, 24 to 26 inches high. A concentrator fits in the kneehole under the dining table of most RVs, leaving enough room for two sets of human legs. You can run your concentrator off of the RVs generator during the day and off the campsite's hookup at night. 

At 54 to 62 lbs., a concentrator requires a lot of strength to lift in and out of your vehicle. You may want to consider owning one that remains in your vehicle all the times. Your oxygen provider may provide you with a second unit for this purpose. If not, you may want to purchase one. There are several compact and lightweight concentrators on the market that you may want to consider for use while on travel. Be aware that the lighter weight concentrators available may have lower Lpm output than your home unit.

I have no experience with inverters, or compact or lightweight concentrators. If you are interested in seeing what is available, see the OxiLife , the Travelsome , and DeVilbiss .

Kathie from Montana favors liquid oxygen over a concentrator for travel.

What kind of 02 to take? If you have a van, have your supplier put a liquid tank in it. I don't know what size it is but it is about three feet tall. [NOTE: It's an L-20 reservoir which holds enough oxygen to support the 2 Lpm user for 140 hours.] Just make sure it is secured. I have a Dodge mini van and they put it in the very back and it is held in place by pulling the seat belts for the rear seat back through the seat and buckled around the tank. With extension tubing it can be used while traveling/driving. Your portables can be refilled from it. It isn't that heavy [88 lbs. full, 39 lbs. empty] so that it can be lifted out, placed on a cart and taken to your motel room. I have a little four wheeled cart that I got at Big R for mine that cost around $30.00.
OR- you can have a  power inverter (about $150.00 plus installation) installed in your vehicle and plug your concentrator into it but then you have to listen to the noise and in the summer will it overwork your air conditioner and alternator (especially in the mountains). I've tried both ways and prefer the liquid tank.

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The Cost of Travel

Some folks on travel incur no additional costs for oxygen services. Others pay the full cost for all services. In this section you will find out what I have learned about the oxygen costs while on travel. 

I have spoken with oxygen providers and read their policy statements regarding patients on travel. Here are the generalities I have learned.

  • Like Medicare, most insurance companies pay a flat monthly fee for oxygen services provided to you, but only to one oxygen provider. This means you cannot expect your insurance company to honor the billings by two providers for services during the same month.
  • Some insurance companies have geographic or designated service area restrictions to their coverage. Your insurance company may take steps to deny you coverage for those periods of time that you are outside of the service area. Check with your hometown oxygen provider and your insurance company about the extent of "out-of-area" coverage. 
  • Some oxygen providers operate under rules that do not permit their patients to take provider-owned concentrators out of state.
Plan your travel well in advance and consult with your hometown oxygen provider to determine how you can minimize oxygen costs while traveling. Here are some things you may find on the road. 
  • There are oxygen providers who will fill up liquid oxygen reservoirs for free if it is done at their office location during normal business hours. Ask you local provider about this and make arrangements in advance. Also, check to see what kind of reservoir the out-of-town providers are used to filling. Reservoirs come in two "flavors" (top loaders and side loaders). Each has its own special valve. Your provider may loan you a conversion valve for your trip. 
  • There are oxygen providers who will loan you at a nominal cost compressed oxygen cylinders. Since these cylinders must be returned where you got them, you need to carry enough cylinders with you for both the trip away and the trip back.
It is unusual for small, independent oxygen providers to cover the costs of oxygen services provided to their patients by other providers while on travel. Many, such as Home Respiratory Therapy & Equipment, Inc. of New York State, will prorate the cost of their Medicare patients on travel, allowing a day's credit for each day a patient is out of town. 

Such a credit is not very large, but it helps offset a small portion of oxygen costs.

Patients of companies that have several branches may receive the same level of oxygen services at these branches as they receive from their hometown branch.

  • Apria claims to have one of its 312 branches within 75 miles of any location within the 50 states. Its policy states that its patients "traveling within the Apria Healthcare network of branches will be serviced at no additional cost." Apia promotes travel by its patient under its "Apria Great Escapes" program.
  • Lincare has branches in 44 states. Its travel policy states: "Under no circumstances is a Lincare customer to be asked for a service charge. Contact/service arrangements to the Lincare center where the traveling customer will be requiring service, will be made by the Lincare center that normally services the customer."
  • American HomePatient has 300 branch offices in all states except California. Rotech   has 650 branches in the continental United States. Both require traveling patients to request assistance through their local branch. Personnel at the local branch will make arrangements with other branches to provide oxygen and related services. Costs will be charged back to the patient's local branch. American HomePatient branches are listed at their website. Rotech will email you information about local branches. 

  • NORCO . which services the Northwestern states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Nevada through its 27 branches, provides oxygen services to its traveling customers at no additional cost. If you are not a NORCO patient and your hometown oxygen provider will provide a purchase order number, any NORCO branch will provide oxygen services at no additional cost to you. 
  • AMOS Make prior arrangements with your hometown provider to issue a purchase order so that when you are in Northern Indiana and Northeast Illinois, AMOS can provide you with compressed or liquid oxygen at their offices, and delivery and setup of a concentrator at a home or hotel in their service area. 
  • DASCO will provide the same service as AMOS at any of its six branches in Ohio.
  • Interwest serves the Western states from 25 retail locations in Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, California and Alaska. Interwest provides the same services for all its patients at all its locations.
The quickest way to identify the location of the local offices of the above providers, is to use "Find a Business" at the WhitePages website.The most helpful resource for oxygen patients on travel is Jerry Gorby's website, BreathinEasy , which list 2,500 oxygen providers in 1,600 cities. Jerry also publishes this information in a book so you can carry this information with you while on travel.

Here are the personal experience of others with oxygen providers while on travel.

Sherrie from Clearwater, Florida, another member of the COPD List and one who is not on Medicare, tells us the following:

When I went out of town, my home oxygen supplier, Access Medical of St. Petersburg, Florida, contacted Apria Healthcare in Biloxi, Mississippi, and asked them to supply me with the oxygen while I was there. Apria billed Access Medical for the oxygen services I got, and Access Medical then billed my insurance.
Tom W. of Palm Bay, Florida, a COPD Support List member who visited 37 states last year in his van, tells us the following:
I have a local provider who has a contract with my HMO. When I travel, I have a small concentrator in my vehicle with an inverter so that I can use it on the road as well as in hotel rooms and soon in my trailer. I also take about eight "E" tanks of compressed 02 to use when I'm out of the vehicle. 

Occasionally when I'm gone for an extended period, I will require the tanks to be refilled. My provider belongs to a service that I can call to identify the closest place to get tanks refilled from wherever I happen to be. As these tanks belong to the supplier in Florida, I MUST get my own tanks back so I label them with my name and usually have to wait overnight to get them back. Of course, I must pay for this out of pocket and not get reimbursed. The concentrator in my van was also an "out of pocket" expense but it sure has been helpful.

Kay of South Carolina, another member of the COPD Support List writes:
My previous supplier provided my traveling oxygen needs. When I switched to a newcompany (because they had the Helios) I explained my "traveling service" my previous company was providing. They agreed to provide the same service. There have been a couple of times that they were not real eager and I had to remind them of what we had agreed to. The point that I was trying to make is that if you don't ask for it, for sure you won't get it!
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Author Comments

If you have information about oxygen providers or consortiums of oxygen providers who facilitate the travel of their patients, please help put me in contact with their marketing department. I will try to get information from them added to this website.

© 2001 Copyright 
Peter M. Wilson, Ph.D. 
Founder of PortableOxygen.org

You have permission to print this document for your personal use. You also have permission to print, copy, and distribute this document to oxygen users and their caregivers. 

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Last Modified: December 26, 2013

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