Lies, Damn Lies, and Blood Glucose Meter Readings

My doctor had originally prescribed me the Accu-Chek Aviva Plus Glucometer to check my blood sugar. It's a good enough device, but with it, it didn't take me long to learn the dark secret of diabetes monitoring.

Namely, that these devices are sold under the Gillette model. Except rather than give away the razors and make money off the blades, it's glucometers and test strips. Same idea, though.

The Accu-Chek Aviva strips cost me $25 for 50. And that's after the insurance pays their share (whatever it is). If I want to get more, say, before a long trip and I'm not "due" for more, well, I have to fight with the insurance company to get them at that price or pay the out-of-pocket cost, which is a hell of a lot more than $25.

Needless to say, I was looking for a cheaper solution. Also, it'd be nice if I could get something that would also send the data right to my iPhone where I'm tracking it.

Enter iHealth Labs. They actually two Glucometers: one that is Bluetooth enabled, and one that just plugs into the headphone port on the iPhone (they also work with Android devices too). Since I didn't always want to be tied to my iPhone when checking my blood glucose, I opted for the slightly more expensive wireless model.

That's all fine and good, but what really attracted me to these glucometers: the price of the strips. At $12.50 for a box of 50 (two vials of 25 each), it's half the price of what my Accu-Check Aviva strips cost. Better yet, I don't have to deal with my insurance company if I need more, I can just order them from iHealth Labs and they'll arrive in a few days.

I ordered a new iHealth Wireless Smart Gluco-Monitoring System and a couple boxes of test strips in early November. Given they are based in Mountain View, CA and ship UPS Ground, it only took a few days to ship once the items came in stock which I knew when I ordered. I ordered before my recent trip to South Africa, so the "extra long" shipping time wasn't an issue for me.

When the meter and strips arrived, I of course tested myself using both meters. The iHealth one was giving me very different results. When I looked at the strips a bit more closely, I noticed that the strips I had been shipped were going to expire on 2 January 2015--less than 60 days away.

Another dark secret of blood glucose meters: they're not as accurate as, say, a blood test. They are good for getting a general idea of where your blood sugar is at, which is the reason your doctor tells you to use one. That said, different meters should give you similar results (within a few mg/dL of each other). When they're off by tens of mg/dL as I was seeing, something is probably wrong.

Given where my blood glucose is averaging, which is 117 mg/dL over a 30 day period, consistently higher test results could mean I test ok on the iHealth meter when, in fact, my blood sugar is actually at hypoglycemic levels.

I contacted iHealth Labs customer service via email. I asked for a bottle of the control solution, which is used to verify the meter and strips are working correctly (it has a set amount of glucose in it) and a box of strips with a later expiration date since there was no way I could use the strips I had ordered before they expired. I got a return email saying both should arrive in a few days.

Meanwhile I continued to periodically test with both my Accu-Chek and the iHealth meter. The iHealth results were consistently at least 20 points higher than my Accu-Chek, sometimes much higher.

I finally got the new box of strips in the mail today, but no control solution. My Accu-Chek strips are starting to run out and I really don't want to get another vial of those at $25 a pop, so I decided to test with iHealth using a strip from the new box I just received to see if it's a problem with the strips I had originally received.

On this test, the iHealth result was about 5 mg/dL lower than the Accu-Chek one. I tested with strips from both of the older boxes of iHealth test strips and the results were more than 40 points higher than the Accu-Chek number. This suggests I got a bad batch of test strips.

I just sent another email to iHealth Labs customer service. Hopefully they'll send me another box of strips and, this time, a bottle of the control solution.

Bottom line: if you're going to change blood glucose meters for one reason or another, make sure you test with both meters for a while to ensure the results are similar before completely ditching your old meter. Also, make sure to get the control solution for your meter.

I plan on doing a full review of the iHealth Wireless Smart Gluco-Monitoring System on a future episode of PhoneBoy Speaks.