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Make the Most of Your Meter

Monitoring blood glucose levels lets you check how well -- or not -- your diabetes-care plan is working. Learn how to choose the right meter for you and get the most out of your readings.

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Glucose Meter Shopping Checklist

Take this checklist with you to the pharmacy or doctor's office to help you pick a blood glucose meter that will work best for you.

  • Insurance coverage: Will your health plan cover the monitor and testing supplies?

  • Doctor's opinion: Does your physician, diabetes educator, or pharmacist recommend the system?

  • Cost: Can you afford the meter? You can often save money by taking advantage of rebates or by trading in your old meter. Your biggest ongoing cost will be the test strips, so find out how much they cost. You can often cut costs by comparison shopping locally or ordering supplies through the mail.

  • Legibility: Is the monitor screen big enough for you to read the results? Choose a large screen if you have trouble seeing or a small one if you need to tote it around. Audio meters are also available if you have impaired vision.

  • Amount of blood needed: Can you test with a small amount of blood? Most new meters require just a tiny drop.

  • Speed: How fast is it? Several meters can complete a test in 5 seconds.

  • Range of results: What's the testing range? Most meters measure from very low (20 mg/dl) to very high (600 mg/dl).

  • Portability: Is it handy to carry? Check the size of not only the meter, but the carrying case that comes with it.

  • Simplicity: How easy is it to use? Go over the operation of the system with a diabetes educator or pharmacist, or at least read the manual on the manufacturer's Web site.

  • Flexibility: Can you test using alternate sites? Most monitors are approved for use with your fingertips and other sites such as your forearms or palms. Alternate sites may be less painful, but read your instruction manual to know when to use them.

  • Storage capacity: How much memory does the meter have? Most meters can store between 100 and 250 results. However, most providers agree with diabetes educator Patti Geil, M.S., R.D., CDE, who says: "I'm still a fan of written records that are all marked up. These become your worksheets with which you and your provider can observe your glucose patterns."

  • Tracking results: Can the meter be used with a data-management system? Some meters are equipped to interface with a software program you can purchase from the manufacturer. The software allows you to store results, times, doses of medications, meals, and activity. Then you can analyze the data and download or send the results to a provider who has the software program.

  • Accuracy: All meters on the U.S. market are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and have a high level of accuracy (within about 15 percent of the actual blood glucose result taken from a lab). Accuracy of a meter may wane over time, but human error causes most of the accuracy problems.

Use these tips to make sure your meter is accurate:

  • Read the instructions carefully and go over your meter's operation with your pharmacist or health-care provider.

  • Stack your meter results against the lab where you have blood drawn -- do a check at the same time the nurse draws your blood.

  • Know what your meter checks: whole blood or plasma. Meters approved in the last few years are plasma-calibrated, which means even though you use whole blood to check your blood glucose, the meter provides the result as if you were measuring plasma. Plasma is more concentrated than whole blood, so plasma blood glucose results are about 10 percent higher than whole blood results. Don't be concerned about this if your meter is less than five years old.

If you feel your monitor is malfunctioning -- because of an error message or seemingly inaccurate results -- contact the company. They want to keep you using their meter.

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