When you get a new glucose meter and can't wait to try shaking out test strips and checking whether the blood droplet is visible in the dark, that might very well be a sign you're about to embark on a different type of diabetes product review.
Enter the Accu-Chek Guide from Roche Diabetes Care, a new meter that just recently hit the market here in the U.S. after being approved by FDA back in August 2016.
As we reported here at the 'Mine in October 2016, Roche certainly got creative with this new meter and took some common sense measures that go a long way in making a unique, affordable and worthwhile meter unlike anything else out there. In fact, Roche is so excited about this new meter that the company has told us the Guide launch is at least one factor behind its decision to discontinue selling its Accu-Chek insulin pumps in the U.S. for now.
It sure took a while for the company to get its ducks in the row for launching the Guide, but for those interested in a solid new fingerstick meter with some great new features, we'd say it was worth the wait.
Accu-Chek Guide Basics
First off, some basic things to know about this new meter:
Accuracy: According to Roche, the Guide meter and strips are more accurate than any of their Accu-Chek products currently on the market. Clinical lab tests have shown that with the lowest glucose readings below 75 mg/dL, it hits accuracy of 100% of results being within +/-10% standard, and two-thirds are within roughly five mg/dL points. On everything above that low threshold, results are all within the current 20% accuracy standard and 95% of them are even within the tighter ~10% standard.
To test this myself, I did a handful of comparisons to other meters I own, and found the Guide was pretty much on par with those results that I know and trust. Moreover, when I re-tested periodically within a few seconds, the Guide amazingly came back with the exact same result -- which as we all know is not to be taken for granted with any given glucose meter (lightening can strike twice, apparently!).
Mobile App: This is the second Low Energy Bluetooth meter from Roche, following its Accu-Chek Aviva Connect meter launched in 2015. Both can be paired with the Accu-Chek Connect mobile app, allowing users to send glucose readings automatically to a smartphone. I found the app straightforward and easy to use.
Test Strip Handling: The new strips are a bit thinner than what I'm used to, so I found it tougher to snag a strip with my big man-fingers, but it wasn't impossible. And the company has taken careful measures to make it easier to apply the blood sample. First off, the area for the drop blood to go on the strip is 2 to 4 times larger than 10 other brand name strips, according to company specs. Also, each Guide strip has a broad, bright yellow edge, anywhere on which the blood can be deposited. The strips also display a blood drop icon to direct people where to apply the blood -- useful given that different brands of strips have varying designs with some collecting the blood directly on the top while others collect samples on the edge. Interestingly, I noticed a trend of "Error 3" messages when using these strips, particularly when I seemed to apply larger drops of blood. In my 50-strip trial run, I wasted 5% of the strips before recognizing a potential pattern, which was somewhat frustrating.
New Features to Love
And then there are three aspects that really make this meter uniquely useful, IMHO:
Try to Spill Me, I Dare You! Clearly, the spill-resistant SmartPack vial is the most unique thing about this new meter. It's a new black, flip-top oval vial that's slimmer than the traditional round design, and it's specifically designed so you can take out a single strip at a time without spilling them. "We're trying to meet a previously-unmet customer need, as to fumbling with strips," says Roche product launch leader Tiffani Cook.
Seriously, I love this. As trivial as it may sound, we're just so delighted that a meter manufacturer finally got the message from patients that fumbling with strips is an issue!
I shook this vial repeatedly, at first over table tops out of caution, but eventually like a maraca over my coffee cup and Diet Coke cans just to tempt fate. And whala -- the strips stayed in there. Roche describes the built-in spill-prevention mechanism as "strip channel," or basically a set of grooves where the strips fit into and prevent the easy spills so common with test strip containers. But I like to describe this as "magic." Yep, when some D-peeps recently asked about this spill-resistant feature, that's what I said with a wink and a smile.
I did find that if you happen to grab a few strips and they aren't secure in the grooves, they can sometimes come loose... but you can easily pop them securely back inside the vial. I for one tend to drop and loose a decent number of strips with any meter, so thanks to Roche for being the first to address this simple but important need!
In-the-Dark Friendly: In addition to the traditional bright backlight screen, the Guide has a really great port light that automatically illuminates the test strip port whenever you insert a strip. Or you can just hit the OK/On button to activate the light, and it stays on until you insert the strip and apply the blood.
This is a wonderful feature for anyone who ever needs to test inside a theater, a dark bedroom, or anyplace where the light is low (which is basically all of us with diabetes, yes?)
I did a number of checks at night with the lights out, and even tried it out at the movies a few weeks ago, and found the nice little port light definitely bright enough to help me test without a struggle.
Ejection Feature: Here's another nice touch, especially given that the test strips on this meter are rather small. The Guide meter also has an eject button on the right side, allowing you to auto-eject the strip as soon as you're finished testing, directly into a trash basket or wherever you aim it. Cool!
Pricing and Availability
On May 24, Roche announced its pricing and availability for this Guide meter, and announced that they have launched in major pharmacies, and expected to hit 90% of pharmacies nationwide by the end of this summer.
The suggested retail price for the Accu-Chek Guide meter and a 50-count vial of test strips is $25-$30, which is mostly consistent with prices you can find online from Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and other pharmacies.
Right now, the Guide strips come only in a 50-count vial, for a suggested retail cost of under $30. But the company plans to eventually release 25 and 100-count vials of strips later in 2017, we're told.
To address access and affordability issues, they've established what they're calling the SimplePay savings program, to help those in need afford the meter and strips at a discount price from local pharmacies. Roche describes this as "a very different approach from the pricing perspective" that is meant to eliminate cost as a barrier.
The SimplePay program, which operates outside of the insurance coverage system, offers a savings card to take to the local pharmacy -- the first vial of strips is $19.99, and each additional vial after that for the same prescription is only $10 more (i.e. two vials would cost $19.99 + $10 for a total of $29.99). The offer is good for up to 12 vials per prescription.
As usual with most of these savings programs, it's not available for those on Medicare and government insurance, Roche says. The savings card is currently being distributed to doctors' offices nationally.
Once the varying amounts of strips are launched later in the year, Roche says it will likely modify the savings card to reflect those changes.
These are simple changes, really, but helpful in that they take patients' real-life concerns into account. Thanks to Roche for "thinking outside the box" here, and we hope they continue designing in this vein.