The long-awaited Apple'esque t:slim insulin pump from Tandem Diabetes Care is finally through FDA! This is the new full-featured pump that looks like a mini iPhone, with the first-ever color touch screen for insulin dosing. When it hits the market in the first half of 2012, it will also be the smallest insulin pump system available, "sized like a credit card and slim as a smart phone."
Tandem is understandably proud that t:slim is one of the first insulin pumps to be cleared under the FDA's new Infusion Pump Improvement Initiative, which addresses safety problems and "design deficiencies" in current pump systems.
We're understandably delighted to see that Tandem is using the tagline "Design Matters," in its promotional materials and talking about how important patient input is to creating a form factor that people can — and want to! — live with. This hails back to our Open Letter to Steve Jobs in 2007 and of course the DiabetesMine Design Challenge contest that grew out of our call to action. In fact, Tandem says they interviewed thousands of PWDs (and also healthcare professionals) in the lead-up to building this product, "... and the clear message we heard was, 'make it cool and make it uncomplicated to use. Give us access to the most advanced features without extra effort.'" Yuppers.
Now, let's talk about the product they've designed:
Yes, it's a tubed pump, but what makes t:slim different is its consumer-pleasing face and tiny size. It is reportedly 25% slimmer than the Animas Ping and MiniMed Paradigm pumps. And it still sports a 300-unit cartridge. Its "vivid color touch screen" lets users scroll and finger-click through settings and commands just like you would on an iPhone or iPad.
It also reportedly delivers insulin more accurately, based on a special patented "micro-delivery infusion method" that allows for much tighter control and monitoring of the amount of fluid flowing out of the pump. (Karmel Allison does a great job of describing the history and details of that technology here.) So you get more precise dosing and a simpler, more compact mechanism.
The other element that allows for the tiny size is switching from regular, commercial-sized batteries, even Triple A, to an "eco-friendly rechargeable battery" that's more the size of watch batteries. The pump is recharged using a "universal USB cord, like you would a cell phone," spokesman Steve Sabicer tells me (anyone remember him from his previous job in media relations at Medtronic? Small D-world).
I thought the need to recharge might be a drag, but Steve says people like the "green appeal" of recharging, and the battery life can be extended indefinitely if you "top off the tank" daily. If you don't charge inbetween at all, the pump has a 7-day lifespan. Charging the t:slim's battery from empty to full takes approximately 2.5 hours, I am told.
Does it come with data management software? Yes, of course. t:slim will launch with a web-based program called t:connect, which is PC and Mac compatible. (Do we hear whooping from the Mac crowd?) All you have to do is plug the pump into your computer with a USB cable and click "upload." You can recharge the t:slim pump at the same time. A nice addition is the fact that t:connect will support a half-dozen popular glucose meter models, too, including OneTouch, FreeStyle, and Accu-Chek.
So how do you wear this little guy clipped to, or underneath, your clothes? If it's about design, then it's about how you'll wear it, right? All Steve could tell me at this time is that t:slim will come standard with a close-fitting protective case, holster, and a screen protector, and that "fashionable cases will be available separately to meet users needs and lifestyles." OK, good to know.
Since the t:slim's not out yet, we couldn't get any details on pricing or reimbursement, nor were there any existing users to interview. But Peter Nerothin, type 1 PWD, advocate and Ironman triathlete of the group Insulindependence, was privy to an extensive demo and plenty of "button-pushing" to explore this new product a bit.
"A big feature for me is that it's gonna be waterproof — because of all my sports," he says. Peter's currently taking a "pump sabbatical" since his Medtronic broke down. Would he go for the t:slim? "I'm excited about it because it's something fresh and unique. It feels modern and sexy. I switched from a Blackberry to an iPhone recently and I've been excited about it ever since. I feel like that's the kind of leap we're seeing with this pump."
"If it works as well as it looks, it'll be a big success," he says, adding that "kids and adolescents may be more inclined to use a pump if they're seeing something with this kind of iPhone-ish appeal." True, but the really young'uns will have to wait; current FDA clearance is for patients age 12 and over.