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Glucose Meter Buying Guide

When deciding to purchase a glucose meter, there are several factors you should consider.

Cost Considerations

  • Cost – There are two types of costs involved: the 1 time cost of the meter itself and the ongoing cost of diabetic testing supplies such as lancets, testing strips, control solutions, etc. When comparing costs, make sure you take into consideration the cost of the supplies that will be required for each particular brand of glucose meter. Many suppliers will offer Free Blood Glucose Meters, but in the long run, the cost of the diabetic testing supplies far outstrips the cost of the meter itself. Finding Discount Diabetic Supplies is a must-have to keep your total costs down.

    This is very similar to the way disposable razors are sold in the US (cheap razors, expensive razor blades). In addition to calculating the true costs of each glucose meter, you should check with your health insurance company to understand what is and is not covered under your policy. Some insurance plans will only cover specific “approved” meters and supplies and others may limit the total amount of the reimbursement.

Performance Considerations

  • Accuracy – The accuracy of a meter in determining in your blood sugar levels is of vital concern. While all current models on the market had to have undergone a rigorous examination by the FDA in order to win approval for sale, there is still considerable variation in the accuracy of different glucose meters. The ADA recommends a target accuracy of +/- 5% (1993), but manufacturing cost effective glucose meters that meet these stringent targets has been challenging. An alternative standard currently under development by an international standards agency has set accuracy targets of +/- 20mg/dl for glucose values under 100 mg/dl and +/- 20% for glucose values > 100 mg/dl (ISO DIS 15197). In spite of the fact that accuracy is a vital concern, there is currently no universally accepted standard or testing method for measuring glucose (and thus testing accuracy). The good news is that the latest generations of diabetes meters are much more accurate than older models
  • Measurement Range – Different glucose meters have different capabilities in reading glucose levels. The range can be as wide as from 0 to 600 mg/dl. If your glucose levels fall outside the meter’s range, the reading will not be accurate. In addition, because the accuracy of glucose meters is often worst in the meter’s extreme ranges (very low or very high), be suspicious of any abnormally low or high reading. Confirm such readings with another test and check the meter’s calibration.
  • Testing Speed – Today’s meters are generally relatively fast in providing results, but the time required to deliver test results can still vary significantly. Test times for modern glucose meters typically range from as fast as 5 seconds to 1 minute. Fast test speed is purely a matter of convenience and personal preference.
  • Comfort – The amount of blood needed to test blood sugar levels can vary from 0.3 to 10 mcl. The amount of blood needed is an important factor since larger blood sample sizes require more skin penetration and thus discomfort.

Functional Considerations

  • Test Site – While the fingertips have traditionally been the area from which blood is drawn for the testing, many blood sugar meters can use alternative sties such as the forearm, thigh, and upper arm. Generally speaking, these alternative sites require less blood, are less painful, and can be more convenient for the user. For these reasons, many diabetics will want the option of being able to use alternative test sites with their glucose monitors. The disadvantage to using alternative test sites is that changes in glucose levels in these regions often lag behind changes in the fingertips and readings from these sites will often differ from the fingertips because of this lag. The jury is still out on the issue of alternative test sites and thus it is recommended you speak with your health care provider in order to determine if alternative test sites are appropriate for you.
  • Cleaning & Maintenance – Different meters will have different requirements in regards to ongoing cleaning and maintenance requirements. Some may require you to regularly clean the meter while others may be relatively care-free. Some may require monthly calibration while other may offer automatic self-calibration. This is largely a matter of personal preference and consideration of the trade-offs involved (if any) in terms of cost, accuracy, and convenience is important.
  • Record Keeping – different glucose meters will offer different features for storing, displaying, and archiving your glucose readings. Record keeping is as important as taking the test itself as the test results will not be useful if you don’t have access to them on an ongoing basis. Most meters will have some sort of capability to store recent readings in memory. More advanced models will offer the ability to interface the meter to data management systems and PCs. These more sophisticated systems are often used to facilitate tracking of trends over time as well as tracking other related items such as diet and exercise.
  • Display Options – All meters meant for use in the home measure the glucose in what is called “whole blood.” Tests used in labs typically measure the glucose levels only in part of the blood called “plasma” or “serum.” Glucose levels in the blood serum are typically 15% higher than whole blood readings. Most modern glucose meters give approximated serum level readings, but older models may still display glucose levels in the whole blood.
  • Portability – Advances in technology have allowed manufactures to design extremely small and portable devices. This has obvious advantages, but one may want to consider other “ease of use” factors such as a larger model for individuals with hand dexterity problems or models with extra large digital read outs for the visually impaired.
  • Ease of Use – Some glucose meters are naturally easier for you to use than others. Depending on factors such as the physical layout, complexity of controls, and breadth of functions offered, one can find a wide range in usability. Select a unit that is comfortable to you on a frequent basis. Even a small inconvenience can have a large impact since you will be using the meter quite frequently.
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This information is not a substitute for your doctor's medical advice.