I have seen the future, and it is now (CGM version)

Bear with me, non-diabetics.  This is about gob-smacking advances in medical technology, and it’s worth a read if for only to the marvels that we can still experience.

A while ago, I wrote about the FDA approval of Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre, a new continuous glucose monitor (CGM).  CGMs include a transmitter which reads your blood glucose level continuously, and displays the information on a pager-sized receiver in the form of a graph showing how your BG is trending.  For a T1D, the CGM seems like a luxury in theory, but in practice become indispensable in your diabetes management.

Several weeks ago, the good folks at Abbott gave me a complimentary FreeStyle Libre  for sampling purposes (@FreeStyleDiabet).

Several years ago, my endocrinologist introduced me to  the world of CGMs (with a DexCom G4), and I immediately understood the usefulness not only seeing my current blood glucose level, but where it had been over the past couple hours and whether it was rising, falling or staying steady.  Compared to the normal BG checking method – pricking your finger, putting a drop of blood on a strip, and getting a reading of the BG at that moment – the CGM was like suddenly being able to see in three dimensions.

Despite the general dependability of the DexCom G4, I stopped using their CGM about a year ago.  I can get into the reasons later; mostly it was a matter of convenience and customer service.  The device itself worked well.

The FreeStyle Libre shows what happens when technology advances, and the developer is listening the ultimate user.  Let’s start with the crown jewel of features:  once you put on the transmitter (which lasts 10 days), you don’t need to prick your finger.  AT ALL.  That’s right, no calibration with a BG meter.

For the non-T1Ds reading this, imagine that every day – every single day, with no abeyance for weekends, holidays or I-don’t-feel-like-it days – you had to prick your finger and draw blood.  Four, five or six times a day.  Then suddenly, you get a device that gives tons more information than the BG meter, with vampire-like fascination for blood dripping from your finger.

For the T1Ds reading this; you read the last paragraph correctly.  I’ve been on the FreeStyle Libre for three weeks and have pricked my finger  a total of six times (all during the admittedly-long 12 hours the CGM has to be inserted before you get readings).

The FreeStyle Libre transmitter is the size of two quarters stacked atop one another, and is inserted on the back of your arm (reverse side from the bicep).  It’s unobtrusive, and you just wave the receiver over it to get an instant reading. (Sorry Dexcom, but the ideal placement of your device was on my stomach, and looked like a tumor under my tee-shirt.  I dislodged more than a couple just hitching my belt up.)

My endocrinologist would yell at me if I didn’t also say that it’s important to use the CGM’s features to input how much insulin you take, food you eat and exercise you do (which helps the docs get a good picture of how and why your insulin is reacting to your activities).  Fortunately, on the FreeStyle Libre, the receiver (again, smaller than a pager and quietly sits in my pants pocket) has easy touch-screen inputting of insulin doses and carb consumption.

So, Abbott . . . yay!  You made a device that works great, and has features oriented toward making a diabetics’ life easier.  This is what innovation is supposed to look like.

In a later post I’ll talk about the computer interface (preview:  EXCELLENT).

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