Blood glucose meters are small, computerized devices that measure and display your blood glucose level. Monitoring your blood glucose levels provides valuable information to you and your doctors about how food, exercise, medications, stress, and other factors affect your blood glucose. This information will then help you and your doctor better construct a treatment plan.
Many types of blood glucose meters are available for at-home use, from basic models that only read the blood glucose, to more-advanced versions that offer features such as memory for storing information. The costs of blood glucose meters and testing supplies vary, and insurance may not always provide coverage. Study all the options before picking out a meter. Consider up-front costs (what the meter will cost you to purchase) and long-term costs (how expensive the testing strips and other supplies are). Then, work with your doctor and learn to properly use your meter.
Choosing a Glucose Meter
Whether this is your first blood glucose meter or you’re looking for an upgrade from one you’ve been using for several years, there are a few questions you should ask yourself before you begin looking.
Does your doctor or nurse educator suggest a specific meter?
They likely have a wealth of experience with an array of meters and can guide you in a good direction.
What does your insurance cover?
Your insurance may have a list of pre-approved meters they will cover. Also, it’s important to find out if and how your insurance will cover the cost of testing strips and supplies.
How much will this cost you?
Some meters can be costly, and insurance companies don’t always make allowances for pricier options. You will have to pay any amount that exceeds their coverage. Also test strips are sold separately from meters and can be pricey—insurance companies sometimes set a cap on how many they will pay for in a year.
How easily can you use this meter?
Testing procedures vary on each meter—some require more work than others. How much blood does the test strip require? Can you see the numbers on the screen easily?
How long does it take to get a reading?
Your time is valuable, and while a few seconds may seem inconsequential, that amount of time can add up when you’re testing several times a day.
Is the meter easily maintained?
Is it simple to clean? Can you calibrate it (set it correctly for each new batch of strips) quickly and easily?
Do you want any special features?
If you know you’ll be carrying this meter with you a lot, you may want a more compact option. If you have a hard time holding on to smaller models, you may prefer one of the larger meters with easier-to-use strips. People with impaired vision may prefer to use a meter that has an easy-to-read screen. Colorful options are available for children, as are models with backlighting on the screen, which makes reading a nighttime easier.
Can the device store your readings?
Because tracking your numbers is vital to long-term care, keeping a record is very important. If you’re comfortable with writing down your numbers in a notebook or paper journal, you may want a more streamlined machine that only reads, not records, readings. However, if you know you’ll be on the go and have a hard time keeping track of a journal, look for a meter that has memory options. Some meters create logs you can then retrieve and journal at a later time. Even more advanced, some meters create a downloadable file that syncs with your computer and can be emailed to your doctor or nurse educator.
Factors That Can Affect Glucose Readings
The accuracy of test results depends on a number of issues, including the quality of your meter and test strips and how well you’ve been trained to operate the machine. Here are other factors that can affect your glucose readings:
Altitude, humidity, and room temperature can all affect your glucose results. Some meters will come with instructions on how to get proper readings in these particular situations.
Incompatible test strips.
Testing strips can be pricey, so you may be tempted to try third-party or generic strips in order to save money. However, your meter is not designed to use these strips, so your reading may be affected. Be sure the alternative test strips you are purchasing are compatible with your machine.
Changes in meters or strips.
Manufacturers may make changes to their machines or test strips, and third-party or generic strip manufacturers are not always made aware when this happens. In that event, the testing strips may become incompatible with your meter. If you are unsure whether or not a particular testing strip will work with your meter, call the manufacturer of your blood glucose meter.
Red blood cells and other substances.
Hematocrit, the amount of red blood cells in your blood, can affect your blood glucose readings. Patients with higher hematocrit levels can test lower for blood glucose levels compared to patients with normal hematocrit levels. Other substances, such as uric acid (a natural substance that is stored in greater concentrations in some people with diabetes), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and glutathione (also called GSH) can interfere with test results. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or nurse educator.
Making Sure Your Glucose Meter Works Properly
To ensure accurate readings, carefully read the instructions provided by the manufacturer. (The FDA requires blood glucose meter manufacturers provide detailed instructions in the machine’s packaging.) If you have any questions, look for a support hotline and call the manufacturer. It’s also a good idea to take your meter to your doctor and have them go over basics of the machine with you. While you’re there, check to see how your machine’s results compare to the machine at your doctor’s office. This will help you see if your machine is correctly calibrated.