Other than insulin, perhaps the biggest breakthrough in treating diabetes in the twentieth century was the invention, improvement, and marketing of the blood glucose meter. Before meters, parents had little real clue to what even average blood sugars were. They went on lab draws that were weeks old or on urine tests that were marginal at best at pinpointing blood glucose levels. Meters changed it all, but it took time.
Building a Market
For years, engineers across the country and around the world had been dabbling with the concept of blood glucose meters. Finally, someone came up with the first model. However, few families had access to the technology, and those who did struggled with it. Blood was put directly on the meter (now there's an “eww factor” today's parents cannot fathom) and they were very expensive.
Although meters were introduced to the market in the 1970s, they did not come of age (i.e., become widely covered by health insurance) until after the results of the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial were released in 1993. This study conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases proved without much doubt that tighter control through better knowledge drastically cut the rate of complications in people with diabetes. It became clear at that time that better tools would not only be more humane for those suffering with diabetes, but they would also save the world hundreds of millions of dollars in costs associated with long-term care of people with diabetes.
The first blood glucose meter was the Ames Reflectance Meter, which hit the market in 1971, weighed two pounds, and took more than a minute to give a reading. Today, more than thirty brands of meters exist with some weighing mere ounces and taking five seconds for a reading.
More important, the study paved the way for meters to be covered by insurance, which unlocked the profit possibilities for technology companies. With that study's results, the race for the technology market share was on, and patients with diabetes were—and continue to be—the constant winners.
Jumping ahead to the new century, meters now come in every shape, size, and pace. Deciding which one is right for you is personal and can really only be done through word of mouth and hands-on experience. It's possible to own a meter that counts down in five seconds. It is possible to own one that tucks into even the tiniest short-shorts pocket. Most meters have long memories and can store all kinds of patterns and information. Most have software so you can download readings and patterns to your computer and e-mail them to your medical team. It all comes down to personal preference. As always, ask your child which meter he likes and why. Take his opinions into account and consideration. But, the final choice should be yours. (See Chapter 18 for teens and pump manipulation issues.)
While some families use a variety of meters at one time, it's a good idea to stick to the same brand. Readings can vary a tiny bit from meter to meter, and most insurance will only cover one type of strip per month. If you decide to make a change, you may want to change out all the meters you have.
Which begs the question: What about using just one meter at all times? While this is generally a great idea, since it will keep all of your child's numbers in the same meter, it's not always possible. Ask yourself if you want your child carrying a meter to and from school, or would you rather she keeps one at home and one at school. Most parents opt for the latter, giving them one item less to forget on a school day morning.
For the most part, you should almost never have to pay for a meter. Most insurance plans cover one per year, and most medical teams have samples to give out. Meter companies make their profits on the strips, not the meters. Look for meter freebies at all times.