Selecting a home blood glucose monitor

There are many different glucose monitors on the market. You should speak with your healthcare provider (doctor, nurse practitioner [NP], physician assistant [PA]) about which monitor or monitors they recommend. Your health insurance plan may only cover select glucose monitors. However, apart from insurance coverage, there are several factors that you should consider in selecting and shopping for a monitor, including1:

  • Expense
  • Ease of use
  • Accuracy
  • Sophistication

Expense. When it comes to the cost of blood glucose meters and supplies, your expense will vary depending on your insurance and the availability of coupons, rebates, or other manufacturer savings programs. The cost of your monitor is usually a reimbursable expense (if you have a health insurance plan), so check and see what monitors are covered by your insurance. While the suggested retail price of monitors may range from $20 to $150, monitors are generally available at a steeply discounted prices. The reason for this is that the ongoing cost of supplies (principally test strips) is where the manufacturer makes money. So, while you may shop around for the best deal on a specific monitor, always to remember to figure the cost of test strips into your purchase. If you are shopping for a specific monitor, use the Internet to do cost comparisons. Prices can vary quite a bit between different retailers, due to purchasing power and regional differences in shipping charges. Generally, the best deals for monitors and supplies are available through mail-order companies, which you can reach via the telephone or Internet. Again, when shopping for a glucose monitor, it is important to be aware not only of the cost of the glucose monitor unit, but also of the cost of test strips, especially if this is something your insurance does not cover. These can range from .30 to $1.70 per strip.2

Resources for researching the cost and
features of home glucose monitors

Consumer Reports Produces an annual ranking and evaluation of meters, based on laboratory and testing data
Available through local libraries or at www.consumerreports.org/cro/blood-glucose-meters.htm (online subscription required)Annual ranking and evaluation of meters usually available in print edition (2012 rankings appeared in the November print edition)
Diabetes Forecast Magazine Magazine published by the American Diabetes Association produces an annual guide to home glucose meters. The 2014 guide is downloadable at http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2014/Jan/blood-glucose-meters-2014.html.

Ease of use. Monitors vary considerably in terms of how easy they are to use. Features that affect ease of use include the general functionality of the monitor, how much blood is required, how quickly results are produced, and size and portability. Most monitors require only a tiny amount of blood. However, it is worth while to check on how large a sample a specific monitor requires. The requirement for less blood translates to a smaller finger stick and less pain. In terms of the time it takes to produce results, time can vary from 5 seconds (this is the standard for most units) to more than 15 seconds. Size is an important consideration, in terms of screen visibility, how easy the monitor is to operate, especially if a person has difficulty with arthritic fingers, and for how you plan to carry the unit (in a purse or pocket).

Accuracy. . Accuracy is a big consideration for most people with diabetes who do self-monitoring of blood glucose. Blood glucose meters have improved greatly in accuracy over the past decade. The US FDA requires that all monitors marketed in the US meet some minimum standards, including3:

  • For results of 75 mg/dL or over, 95% of monitoring results must be within 20% (plus or minus) of the actual blood glucose level
  • For results under 75 mg/dL, 95% of monitoring results must be within 15 points of the actual blood glucose level

These FDA standards are based on standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which has announced that it will implement new more rigorous standards in the near future.

Keep in mind that the accuracy of your monitor is affected by factors other than the meter, including4:

  •  How well the testing is performed, including how well you follow manufacturer instructions, such as washing and drying hands and storing test strips.
  • The number of red blood cells in your blood (this is called your hematocrit). If you are anemic or if you are dehydrated, your monitoring results may be less accurate.
  • If you have taken a substance that interferes with the monitoring results (these include vitamin C or a drug like Tylenol). Instructions with your blood glucose monitor will list substances that you should avoid around the time you are testing.
  • Temperature, altitude, and humidity can affect test results. The manufactures instructions for your unit will provide more information about testing conditions.
  • Test strips must be stored properly (according to manufacturer instructions), as direct light and humidity can affect the life of the test strip. Test strips that are stored in a cool place (above freezing) and away from the light and moisture have the longest life.

Sophistication. With advances in software and hardware, blood glucose monitors on the market today offer a broad range of features that allow you to do much more than just measure your blood sugar. They allow you to record parameters such as how much you’ve eaten and how much exercise you had. They have extensive memories (most can store from 100 to 450 test results) and provide sophisticated user interfaces. However, keep in mind that sophisticated features are only useful if you plan to use them regularly and the features help you with your diabetes care.3

Most monitors sold today do not require entering a code number or using a key for each test strip vial. Functions that many people find useful include a display that is backlit for ease of use in the dark, audio capability for people with vision impairment (low or no vision), the ability to download data to a computer (this makes storing and sharing data easy), and the ability to attach a drum or disk of test strips, which eliminates the need to handle individual test strips.3

If you plan to use your monitor with your computer, make sure that the software that comes with the unit is compatible with your computer operating system. Also, check with your doctor or another member of your diabetes care team to find out if a unit will work with their computer system so that you’ll be able to download data during office visits.

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: May 2014.
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