Diabetes Devices: What Matters Most to Users
People in the diabetes community tell us what devices and features they like in meters, pumps, pens, and more
With a world of diabetes tools out there, how can you know what’s right for you? You can consult your doctor, your diabetes educator, even this issue of Diabetes Forecast. But sometimes it helps to talk to people who use the tools daily.
Some friends in the diabetes community told us what devices and features they like—and why. Read on to find out what matters most to people: cost, portability, minimal pain, and more.
No matter what type of diabetes you have, an important step in blood glucose control is at your fingertips: Blood glucose meters and strips are the main way people monitor blood glucose levels on a daily basis. There are dozens of models on the market and a wide range in the cost of the accompanying test strips. Here’s how a few people chose their meters:
Affordable Strips: Catherine Holmes, age 46, of Metairie, Louisiana, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2014, uses Walmart’s ReliOn meter because the test strips are inexpensive—which means she can afford to test her blood glucose more frequently. That, she says, is leading to better blood glucose control.
“[They are] amazingly affordable,” she says. “They’re a godsend because I don’t have any insurance. No [cost] worries about checking your blood sugar in the morning, before and after each meal, and before you go to bed.”
Fewer Wasted Strips: Evelyn Mueller Wachter, age 39, of Franklin, Wisconsin, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2007, uses the Bayer Contour Next meter because it requires less blood than other meters she’s used—and that means shallower finger sticks. The meter also alerts her if the first drop doesn’t fill the strip so she can apply more blood. This feature helps her avoid wasted strips.
“I have used different meters, and so far I love, love my Bayer Contour Next meter. It takes less blood than any other meter I have had. I can keep filling the test strip if I don’t have enough blood out of my finger the first time around,” she says. “Yes, I pay $53 a month for the test strips, but it is well worth it.”
Data Syncing: Bob Pedersen, 54, of Kansas City, Missouri, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2009, uses LifeScan’s OneTouch Verio Sync meter with his smartphone to keep his testing data close at all times—and to enjoy a little flash with his diabetes management. The meter syncs with an app that makes it easy to track blood glucose trends, log activity, and share blood glucose readings with others, such as a health care provider.
“I use a Verio Sync, which wirelessly syncs to my iPhone,” he says. “It would be hard to claim that I need that capability. But I like the cool factor, and heaven knows there’s not much of that in diabetes!”
Some people on intensive insulin therapy choose a pump instead of multiple daily injections with a syringe or pen. Pumps operate more like a pancreas is supposed to: allowing small, programmed amounts of basal (or background) insulin round the clock and manual boluses (mealtime doses). Various basal rates and temporary rates can be programmed to offer more precision for changing insulin needs during exercise, sick days, menstruation, andmore. Each pump offers its own features, so users can choose the one that best suits their needs.
Convenience and Flexibility: Sydney Resnick, 12, of East Northport, Illinois, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 2, uses a Medtronic MiniMed Paradigm Real-Time Revel pump because it makes insulin delivery quick and easy.
“With shots, I had to eat at a certain time and test at a certain time,” she says. “With this, I can just eat and test and do a lot of stuff on my own schedule, when it’s convenient. It’s a lot easier and it’s faster to do than to take shots. [When I play basketball] I clip it onto my pants. It doesn’t fall or really get in the way.”
Precision Dosing: Mike Barry, 47, of Naperville, Illinois, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1984, chose a pump over shots because it can deliver tiny, exact amounts of insulin. Fine-tuning his insulin delivery helped him lose weight and bring down his A1C.
“The pump flipped a switch, and everything really fell into place for me,” he says. “I noticed with the smaller increments [some pumps can deliver 0.025-unit increments of insulin], there’s a lot more precision.”
Tubeless Freedom: Carmen Mayo, 34, of Hugo, Minnesota, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1997, uses Insulet’s tubeless OmniPod insulin pump for more freedom.
“I’ve been on an insulin pump for more than a dozen years—most of my diabetic life. Having it tubeless allows me to wear dresses again to work. When I need to dress up for a professional environment, that opens a lot of doors,” she says. “It’s waterproof, so I can go swimming with [the pod] on or take a shower, and I don’t have to worry about [disconnecting or] how many minutes I missed of insulin. I’m never catching tubing on anything.”
Pumping and Monitoring: Laddie Lindahl, 62, of Minneapolis, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1976, has ordered the Animas Vibe meter, which includes insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) functions in one device.
“I’m pretty excited about that, the combination,” she says. “I don’t like carrying two devices. Women’s clothes do not come with enough pockets! I did feel comfortable knowing that it is a waterproof pump. That just makes me feel safer.”
Healthy Outcomes: Evelyn Mueller Wachter uses an insulin pump not just for herself, but for her growing family. Dangerously high blood glucose levels were a contributing factor to a previous miscarriage, but now that Wachter is using an insulin pump, she feels more in control.
“Life is much easier with the pump,” she says. “I have been all over the world with [my A1C]: 8, 12, 9.2. I’ve been on the pump for six months … and my A1C [is] 5.7. Not only is the pump good for me, it’s going to help me have another child.”
Continuous Glucose Monitors
These devices can show trends in your glucose levels by giving around-the-clock readings. Each CGM system—there are five currently on the market—has three parts: a small, under-the-skin sensor that measures glucose in interstitial fluid around your skin cells, a transmitter attached to the sensor, and a receiver that stores and displays the information for you. In some devices, the receiver is also an insulin pump.
CGMs cannot entirely replace regular checks with a blood glucose meter and require calibration with a meter every 12 hours, but they may help you reduce finger sticks. Even better, but they show where your glucose level has been in past minutes and hours and where it may be headed; it’s not just a single number in time.
Safety Alerts: Jessica Byrne, age 35, of Sellersburg, Indiana, who was diagnosed with type 1 in 2007, uses the Dexcom G4 Platinum CGM to manage unpredictable glucose swings.
“I am a brittle diabetic, so I do not feel when I go low and I have really bad yo-yoing sugars. It definitely alerts me when I go below 100,” she says. “It’s helpful for spouses, too. My husband can look at it and he can hear when I’m beeping [because alarms sound with high, low, or rapidly changing blood glucose levels]. I think it’s one of the best ways to control your diabetes. It gives you peace of mind.”
Data-Driven Choices: Mike Barry’s pump, Medtronic’s MiniMed Real-Time Revel, includes an integrated CGM, which he appreciates for its steady stream of data.
“The way it synthesizes and amalgamates the data, if I’m going low before lunch every day, I can pull up the data and confirm my suspicions, then make adjustments [to my basal rate],” he says. “It’s been very easy to adjust.”
Information Sharing: Allyson Legnini, 29, of Washington, D.C., who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 7, uses a glucose sensor and transmitter, which integrate with her Medtronic insulin pump, in the weeks leading up to an endocrinologist appointment to get a clear picture of where she’s been—and to plan for her future management.
“It’s really great because it gives them a snapshot [of my blood glucose trends]. I don’t use it consistently. I use it for two weeks before I go to the endocrinologist so that we have a really good conversation.”
Insulin pens are the size and shape of a regular writing pen, or a little bit thicker, and can be disposable (preloaded with insulin) or reusable (filled with cartridges you can replace). Pens have replaceable needles, and they should be changed after each injection to avoid clogs and blunt tips, which may mean a painful injection. Some pens dispense insulin by the unit, others by the half-unit.
Freedom From Attachments: Jon Ettinger, 29, of Washington, D.C., who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 17, uses insulin pens because he likes to be unencumbered.
“I use the Lilly Humalog KwikPen throughout the day [for boluses] and the Sanofi Lantus SoloStar once a day, at night [for background insulin]. At one point many years ago, I considered and actually acquired an insulin pump, but I decided that I was happy enough with the insulin pens and didn’t want either an infusion set site or pump attached to my body. Giving myself a shot with an insulin pen takes about five seconds, and I’m not shy about doing it in public nor about letting curious friends inject me.”
Easing Needle Fear: Kerry Knudson is mom to 5-year-old Jordan of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Jordan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last year. They use Novo Nordisk’s FlexPen and Sanofi’s SoloStar insulin pens because they’re less scary than syringes.
“My son is scared of needles, so we use the pen, and for whatever reason, it disguises the needle just enough that it eases his anxiety. The other thing I love about the pen is that it measures everything very accurately.”