Select the best glucose meter for your needs

If your doctor says you need to start testing your blood glucose levels at home, picking a meter might seem overwhelming. There are so many meters to choose from, all with different options and features. Here's the lowdown on how to select the best glucose meter for your needs without getting confused or spending more money than you need to.

"[Blood glucose meters] are all about equally accurate," said Patty Bonsignore, RN, CDE, and the Manager of Clinical Education Programs, Healthcare Services, at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Massachusetts. "Meter preference really depends upon what people are looking for."

Glucose meters, costs and insurance coverage

When picking a meter to use for the first time, check with your insurance company about which brands of meters, as well as the accompanying test strips and lancets, are covered. Also ask about how the insurance company will handle payment, if at all, if you decide to go with a glucose meter and test strips that aren't covered by your company. "Getting a meter that is preferred will save you a lot of money in co-payments," said Bonsignore.

If you have Medicare, most meters are covered but in order to get strip coverage, the pharmacist or mail order pharmacy needs to fill out special paperwork, so it's important to ask about this, she added.

"In this economy, it's the cost of the strip that will set you back," said Evan Sisson, Pharm. D., CDE, a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. "Most patients can find an inexpensive meter. Most meters are fairly comparable in terms of accuracy and they all require very little blood."

"The out-of-pocket expense for strips is about $.50 to $1.00 a strip, which is a significant chunk for people who are underinsured or uninsured," said Sisson. Unfortunately, "right now there is no company providing strips through a patient assistance program," he said. At a time when some stores compete for patient business by offering to fill prescriptions for $4 each, he added, "it would be nice for patients to have a low cost option for strips."

You may be able to obtain a greatly reduced cost or free glucose meter from your doctor's office or even from a rebate program from a meter manufacturer.

Whether a person is on insulin might make a difference, too. For patients not on insulin, it is possible that an insurance company may pay for a very limited amount of test strips per week or month. For those on insulin, it is more likely that insurance coverage will pay for the cost of however many test strips a doctor writes a prescription for, to help fine-tune insulin doses and to avoid hypoglycemia.

What features do the best glucose meters offer?

Different meters offer assorted options, and it can be hard to figure out what is most important to you when you are just getting used to testing your blood glucose regularly. "Most of the meters on the market today work in very similar ways," said Bonsignore. "Many of the meter websites have video demonstrations of their meters, and this will help you get a sense of what you like."

Typically, meters today are fast and typically give you a reading in five to 15 seconds. They use very little blood, and with many, you can download readings onto a computer and have the ability to store a history of glucose readings. "Some have fancier display screens than others, and have the ability to enter more information in them, such as whether the reading was done before or after a meal, Bonsignore added. "Some are small and easier to carry around, while others are larger and may be easier for some people, particularly older adults, to hold," she said.

Alternative site testing, or being able to use blood taken from an arm instead of a fingertip, is another option. However, ask your doctor if this is a good choice for you. "One of the misconceptions is that alternative site testing can always be used, but it is not appropriate for every patient," said Sisson. When blood glucose levels are rapidly dropping, blood taken from the arm might not reflect such quick changes and therefore, might give an inaccurate reading.

Store brands, such as the ReliOn brand from Walmart, are typically cheaper than name brands of meters, said Sisson, and what he recommends for his patients without insurance. "The store brand meters are just older version of branded products," he said. "The test time may be a little bit longer, or the droplet of blood may be slightly bigger, but otherwise, the technology is exactly the same," he said.

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About Cheryl Alkon

Cheryl Alkon is the author of "Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby" and the creator of the blog Managing the Sweetness Within. As a longtime writer, her work has appeared in various print and online titles including the New York Times, Body&Soul, Boston, More and Woman's Day magazines. For more details, see CherylAlkon.com.

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