Can it be true? Finally, the day of wireless Bluetooth diabetes data beaming has arrived! Two new glucose meters now at our fingertips can instantly send our blood sugar results to a smartphone or tablet, with no need for manual re-entry or that connect-to-communicate step that pretty much all other meters require. Woot!
We’re talking about JnJ/Lifescan’s new Bluetooth-enabled VerioSync and the BG5 Bluetooth Glucometer from the much lesser-known iHealth Labs (both of which were just reviewed by the legendary Wall St. Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg).
We wanted to share our own views of these two next-gen meters — which are exciting but nevertheless have some drawbacks — along with some details on how they’re getting to market.
First off, it’s interesting that JnJ/Lifescan’s busy sending out review units of the VerioSync now, given that it got FDA approval back in February and the company says the product won’t yet be available for sale until the the first quarter of 2014 — a whole year since it got OKd! We pressed JnJ/Lifescan Communications Director David Detmers for more detail on what the holdup has been, and whether it had anything to do with the recall on its VerioIQ meters earlier this year or the recent November announcement of a corporate restructuring. Not surprisingly, he was pretty vague:
“I can tell you that the launch timing of OneTouch VerioSync is not related to the reorganization nor the Verio(IQ) recall that took place earlier in the year. As I’m sure you can appreciate, there is more to launching a product than simply receiving regulatory clearance…
I understand this may seem like an inordinately long time, but as they say, you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. We hope our customers will agree it was worth the wait.”
The VerioSync has already been criticized for being Apple-compatible only, not Android. Detmers tells us there’s nothing new to report on that front yet.
When I opened the box of my review unit, I was surprised to find a mini USB cable and AC adapter: I thought we’d progressed beyond that! Turns out these are geared at charging the meter’s battery, which the instructions state must be done every one to weeks, and the cable also gives you the option of downloading data to a PC if you wish.
I wasn’t too keen on the need to recharge the battery, given that I’m already fussing with that with my iPhone daily, and my Dexcom every few days. One thing I love about the OmniPod is the disposable batteries that last a loooong time and require no fuss.
Anyhow, the first thing you do is download the OneTouch Reveal app from the app store and press some buttons to synch it with your new meter. I think the interface is the most appealing I’ve seen on any diabetes app to date, so kudos to the designers. There are little icons you can tap to easily add info on carbs, activity and meds with a clean, quick-tap interface.
It really it is kind of like magic: every time I took a fingerstick with this slick new meter I checked the app on my phone and whala! There was my latest result already logged and ready to tag, if I felt like taking the time for that. The cool thing is that the logbook recognizes the time you took the test, and automatically places your result under Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Bedtime or Overnight. You can customize the timeframes for these categories in the “About Me” section, where you enter your personal information including gender and target ranges, and can set your Time of Day categories just by using your finger to move the little white circles on a time pie chart. Easy!
You can of course also set reminders on the app, and even contact OneTouch support directly by clicking their email or phone number.
Being connected to the iPhone means you never have to worry about resetting times on your meter (if you enter a different time zone or daylight savings hits) because the app automatically updates this info on the meter when they synch. I loved that. I’ve been using the meter built into my OmniPod for years now, and honestly rarely look at the BG history other than when I connect to CoPilot every now and then to make printouts for my doctor. So the easy view of trends was really appealing. With just a tap, you can view a color-coded bar that tells you what percentage of the time you’ve been in or out of range for the last 14 days.
This meter uses the same expensive-looking gold test strips as the VerioIQ meters that run $40 for 25 strips — although I’m told they are covered by insurance. I actually liked the “side loading” design, which made it very easy to get a small amount of blood on the strip. It also ships with the little OneTouch Delica lancet, which I personally love: small, handy, and minimal sting when testing.
Some folks have noticed a big drain on their iPhone battery when using the OneTouch Reveal app a lot. This is likely due to the use of regular Bluetooth rather than the newer low-energy (LE) Bluetooth technology — which was not yet available while this meter was being developed, a spokesperson tells us. Small bummer.
The super-fast and easy data synch is in some ways nicer than the iBGStar, which of course also elongates your iPhone when plugged in — not to mention the fact that the move to iPhone 5 models with a different port has really messed with iBGStar’s functionality.
One frustrating thing I found at the outset with the VerioSync is that it was not at all clear how to share the logbook, in order to text or email results. I couldn’t find any instructions on the app itself or even in the Owner’s Booklet that shipped with the meter. I had to call the company to request the instructions. Turns out it’s really quite easy; the fault lies in the fact that the instructions are so hard to find.
All you do is tap and hold any of the white space (blank area) on the app, and a little menu pops up with the options “Share” or “Help.” If you click Share, you can choose email or text. Note that the Logbook and Summary screens will be sent in JPEG format, so essentially as pictures. If you tap once on the “14-Day Glucose Report” bar graph, it takes you to a 14-day results page that’s shared as a basic graph, which is editable and can be copied into Excel if you like.
Upshot: me likes it! Would I recommend and use this meter (and app) on a regular basis? Yes. And that’s saying a lot for a gal who’s tried just about everything and worships simplicity.
When the VerioSync does become available to buy in Spring, Lifescan will be offering an introductory price of just $19.99 online at Walgreens.com, CVS.com, RiteAid.com and Walmart.com.
Meanwhile, as the Sync waits in limbo to hit the market, there’s a competing meter out there already. Mike’s been trying out the BG5 by iHealth Labs since early December, and has found it to be pretty snazzy while comparable as far as accuracy to other D-devices he’s using.
Created by Mountain View, CA-based iHealth Labs, this meter dubbed BG5 got FDA approval on April 12, 2013, and hit the market in October (only 6 months to approval, in case you’re keeping tabs…).
Here’s what Mike says about using the meter:
Opening up the box, you find a smooth, contoured meter that fits the curve of your index finger allowing you to hold it oh-so-easily. There isn’t a single button on the front of the device, only one on the side that you press for three seconds to turn the unit on and see your logbook.
It only took a few seconds to pair the BG5 with my iPad or smartphone, and when that happens a little blue bluetooth symbol blinks. All of the letters and numbers displayed on the meter are in (diabetes) blue, which iHealth tells us was chosen for aesthetic reasons. The meter uses iHealth-proprietary strips that have a QR Code right on the top of the vial, and since the meter keeps track of how many strips you’ve used, it will tell you if it’s time to scan the QR Code on a new vial and start the 25-strip tracker.
Five seconds is all it takes for a blood sugar check, with the second countdown showing up in nice big blue letters on my iPad or phone before showing up on the Gluco-Smart app — which you can find in the Apple Store or on Google Play. If the BG5′s communicating with that app, it will only show the results on the app screen. Honestly, I’d like to see results displayed on the meter, too, but right now that only happens if you aren’t paired up with the app. The meter stores the results and you can beam all that data to your app at a later point. Of course, all the data can be collected and viewed in an online cloud so that you can email it to your doctor or easily print out.
Note that iHealth is also using regular Bluetooth, but their roadmap for the future includes the addition of the low-energy (LE) version.
On the box, iHealth states that the BG5 is accurate within 10% — better than the existing FDA standard! I did a number of tests alongside my Bayer Contour Next meter that’s about the same size, and the results came out very close (sometimes within a point!) I never saw more than a 20-point difference above my usual meter. And the BG5 was also usually within that same range compared to the results my Dexcom G4 was showing. Nice.
Like Amy, I’m not a fan of having to connect to a USB cable for recharging, instead of just being able to swap out batteries when necessary, but since most new meters and devices seem to be going the USB-way these days, it wasn’t unexpected.
At this point, you can only buy the BG5 meter at the iHealth store online or at Best Buy stores for $80. That includes a start package box containing 50 strips, a smooth little white lancet about the size of a pinky finger, and all the respective accessories, booklets and basic information. They also offer a box of two vials (a total of 50 strips) for $50.
iHealth tells us they’re still in the process of applying for insurance coverage but that’s not yet available, so that limitation will likely stop many PWDs from accessing the device for continued use at this time. We’re crossing our fingers that insurers get on board to offer these choices soon.
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As an afficionado of consumer technology, Walt Mossberg ends his WSJ article on these two meters with this sage observation: “Either of these meters could make disease management easier for diabetics with smartphones. But the snail’s pace of improvement in these devices is maddening.” Amen.