Back to the Future:  Dexcom G4 Share and Apple Watch

Laddie_Head SquareIn the last 10 days, my diabetes technology world has changed. On one hand I have reverted to an older tech platform. On the other hand I have zoomed into the future with a modern and cool-for-a-64-year-old-woman device.

Stepping Back:  After getting my free(!) upgrade to the Dexcom G5 last fall, I was lucky to be left with an unused G4 transmitter. I didn’t start using the G5 until March when my previous G4 transmitter passed its 1-year anniversary. It was still working fine, but I abandoned it to transition to the G5 platform. A bit wasteful, but gee whiz, that transmitter was never going to die! I used two G5 transmitters and for the most part was happy with G5.

That unused G4 transmitter did not disappear and kept sending “Use Me! Use Me!” messages to my brain inbox. If I were not moving to Medicare and no CGM coverage in 6 months, I probably would have used my “privileged diabetes patient” status to stay with G5 and give the unused G4 transmitter to a  needy DOC friend.

Last weekend my second G5 transmitter timed out and I bit the bullet to go back to G4. My CGM warranty expired in early September and I was able to order a new G4 Share receiver. Although it had only been 6+ months since I had last used Share, I panicked as it seemed totally foreign to me. Also because I am using the mySugr logbook, I needed to be sure that my CGM information would continue to sync to the app. Miraculously I figured everything out and it is working correctly.

Onward to the Future:  Earlier this fall I decided that I would use my #firstworldprivilege to order an Apple Watch so that I could see my current blood sugar just by raising my wrist. Please remember that I started my diabetes career in the days of urine testing and things like this are magical to me.d-tech-privilege-circle

My Apple Watch 2 arrived last week. I have not worn a wristwatch in 12+ years since I got my first insulin pump, aka pocket watch. It wasn’t terribly difficult to add the Share app to the watch and it works okay. Unfortunately it cannot be used as a watch face “complication” like the G5 app. There is another app called “Watch Sugar” that allows me to add the Dexcom number to my watch face, but it is so time-delayed that I don’t find it helpful.

Basically I leave the Dexcom Share app open on the watch all of the time and it is usually what I see first when I raise my wrist. When Share is not the wake-up screen, it is easy to find the app in the dashboard and restore it. My difficulty with this whole set-up is that occasionally it just doesn’t work. If I am using other Bluetooth devices such as headphones or a speaker, I think the phone gets confused and occasionally loses the signal from the Dexcom receiver. There are also user-error problems such as leaving the receiver upstairs or closing out the Share app on my phone.

Clash of the Past and Future:  The bad part about these D-tech changes is that now I have two more devices to carry, coordinate, and charge than I did two weeks ago. The G4 requires a receiver and of course the watch is added. The blood glucose number that I see on my wrist starts with the transmitter beaming info to the receiver which communicates with the phone that sends it to the watch. There is definitely some mental fatigue and data overload with this set-up. At the same time I love not having to reach into my pocket to retrieve Dexcom data.

Life is good. It might would be nice if I didn’t diabetes but that horse left the barn a long time ago. So today I give thanks for access to technology that make my life with diabetes a little bit easier and a lot more interesting. 😀

Choosing the Dexcom G5—Again

Laddie_Head SquareIn September I wrote a blogpost about the pros and cons of upgrading from the Dexcom G4 CGM to the Dexcom G5. Since my upgrade was free and I did not have to return the new and still-unused G4 transmitter, the decision to accept the G5 transmitters was a no-brainer.

Two weeks ago my transmitter warranty expired and I was once again faced with the G4/G5 decision. Most of the arguments from my September post are still valid, but probably my biggest concern was whether I liked the positives of the G5 enough to outweigh the increased cost of the transmitters. As most of you know, G4 transmitters are warrantied for 6 months but operate until they die—sometimes as long as a year after initial use. G5 transmitters are sold in pairs with each transmitter programmed to shut-off after 108-112 days (90 days + 18-22 days grace period).

Around the DOC I have seen many CGM users who have chosen to remain with the G4 for various reasons. Read Mike Hoskins’ post at Diabetes Mine for a good description of valid reasons for not changing. Recently on Facebook there have been discussions where some users are considering going back to the G4 as their G5 warranties expire. In most cases the motivation is financial although some users have been dissatisfied with the transmission range and signal reliability of the G5 system.

I have been using the Dexcom G5 since late February. Initially I was quite frustrated by the alert sound options on my iPhone and in typical fashion wrote a rant blogpost. At that point I was too new to the system to evaluate other pros and cons of the G5 platform.

Fast forward a few weeks and when once again faced with the G4/G5 decision, I chose without hesitation to remain with the G5 system. So what changed and why am I totally on board with the G5?

Dexcom G5 Choice

1. Although I never really minded carrying the Dex receiver, I quickly fell in love with not carrying it. I appreciate having one less thing in my pockets and one less expensive device to keep track of. I like how my BG numbers are displayed on the phone and how the G5 app allows me to key in calibration numbers rather than scrolling on the receiver wheel. I like the use of color in the app and the ability to see graphs in landscape mode. I appreciate the new iPhone “complication” that allows me to see my BG number without unlocking my phone.

2. When I use the receiver, I find the screen with the white background easy to read unlike the G4 screen with colored numbers and tracings on a black background. As someone who spends a lot of time hiking in bright sunlight, I found the G4 receiver impossible to read at those times when I needed it the most. (See “Sunlight and the Dex G4: A Bad Mix.”) I will admit that I dislike the glaring spotlight of the G5 screen when checking it in the middle of the night.

3. Although I am still not happy with the sound profiles on the iPhone, it is not bothering me very much. I am experimenting with using the receiver at night and my phone during the day. When I combine the musical Dexcom alerts with my Lantus reminder alarm in the evening, I feel like a digital music box.

4. Because I am a year away from Medicare and no CGM coverage, it is easy to argue that I should be hoarding transmitters and continuing with the extended life of the G4 transmitters. A great idea in theory, but it ignores the probable release of the Dexcom G6 in 2017 or early 2018. The G6 promises improved accuracy and reliability and I suspect it will quickly leave the G4 and G5 platforms in the dust. Because the G5 does not require a receiver, maybe it will be more economical than the G4. Or are you required by the FDA to purchase a new receiver every year?

Right now Medicare is a huge “unknown” in my life and I will soon be writing about my preparations and guesswork as I move closer to April 1, 2017. I hate the idea of hoarding supplies and technology that will become obsolete and possibly unused. But I am not optimistic about a change in Medicare CGM policy and am I crazy not to stock up on G4 transmitters?

5. I have not been bothered by things that could be considered flaws of the G5 system. I have experienced very few dropped data points. I have occasionally lost the signal on my phone, but that also happened periodically with my G4 receiver. The battery of my almost 3-year old iPhone 5 runs down more quickly due to the Dex G5, but not enough to be a real problem. I am still not satisfied with the lack of a robust vibrate alert on my phone, but I’m losing no sleep over it.

Summary:  As I am reminded whenever I write technology blogposts, I am indeed one of the “Diabetes Privileged.” I would of course prefer not to have diabetes and it is certainly not a “privilege” to live with this difficult-nagging-frustrating-serious-chronic health condition. But given that I do, I have many things in my favor. I am educated. I have good health insurance and am able to buy insulin and other required medications/supplies. I have a computer, an iPhone, and a connection to the Internet and the Diabetes Online Community. I have access to good food and a safe environment in which to walk and exercise. I am the beneficiary of the newest diabetes technologies and able to debate whether I want to live with the fabulous Dexcom G4 CGM or the newer and fabulous Dexcom G5 CGM.

And today I choose the Dexcom G5.

Hiking with Diabetes in 2016

Laddie_Head SquareOn January 1st I greeted the new year with a 9-mile hike in the Mazatzal Mountains near Sunflower, Arizona. I am an avid hiker and have written extensively about hiking with diabetes. You’ll find some of those posts listed at the bottom of the page.

Not a lot has changed with my hiking in 2016 except for two tech devices.

Dexcom Share:  I have often complained that the Dexcom G4 receiver is unreadable in bright sunlight. Animas pumps are even worse. I can’t see a darn thing on the screen. This year is my first experience hiking with the ability to see my Dexcom numbers on my iPhone. It’s fabulous. I can read the numbers with no effort at all. Now when my Dex receiver vibrates, I can pull out my phone to see whether it is a high or low alert and what the number is! Unfortunately I still can’t read my pump screen.

Spot Gen3 Tracker:  Despite my emphasis on safety, I have realized for several years that I was missing one device that a hiking group like mine should have. We are quite adventurous and most of our hikes are in mountainous areas with no cell phone coverage. If one of us were to get  injured or sick (or have issues due to Type 1 diabetes!), we’d basically be up Sh*t Creek. Most likely we would have to split up the group with some hiking out and driving to get help and others staying behind with the hiker-in-trouble. When you are 5-6 miles away from the car, this is not an ideal situation.

In response to my first hiking post in 2013, Scott Johnson mentioned a satellite-based SOS device that he had used for job-related drives in the boondocks. He wrote:

I think it’s wise to have the glucagon and prep the group. Hopefully you’ll never need any of it. But that’s one of the things about living with diabetes — we have to plan for the absolute worst case scenario.

When I was doing some work that involved a lot of driving in very remote areas I found a device/service called SPOT that used satellites to allow me to call for help, if needed, or broadcast an “I’m Ok” message to loved ones. Thankfully I never had to use the rescue service, but it provided great peace of mind.

Two and a half years later I am now the owner of a Spot Gen3 satellite tracker. According to the company website, the device “provides location-based messaging and Spot Tracker Photo_Croppedemergency notification technology that allows you to communicate from remote locations around the globe.”

That means that I can send out pre-programmed “I’m OK” messages to multiple phone numbers and email addresses. The two routine message options provide GPS coordinates and a link to Google Maps showing my exact location and track. There is a Help, but not life-threatening message that can be sent to designated contacts. Finally there is a SOS button that will summon a cavalry of emergency responders and helicopters.

I hope never to be in a situation where we must use the SOS alert. But if we face a life-threatening emergency, the cost of my annual Spot contract with be worth every dollar. (BTW I received my tracker free due to a pre-Christmas rebate contingent on purchasing an annual monitoring contract.)

Related Posts

Hiking with Diabetes Part 1

Hiking with Diabetes – Part 2

Short Hikes – Hiking with Diabetes Part 3

Oh Yes, I Can

 

Considering the Dexcom G5 Upgrade

Laddie_Head SquareFor the first time in my diabetes tech history, I am in the golden upgrade zone. The FDA approval of the Dexcom G5™ Mobile CGM System was announced the same week that my G4 warranty expired. According to Dexcom’s upgrade program, I am entitled to a free upgrade to the G5 system if I purchased my G4 Platinum System with Share before the G5 begins shipping.

It was a no-brainer to order my new G4 system as soon as possible because I never want to run the risk of out-of-warranty equipment failing. Due to good insurance and the CGM rep at Edgepark (yes, I always have great service from Edgepark unlike so many others who report horror stories), my new CGM arrived within a week. At this point I began doing my homework about the upgrade options.

As I learned more about the G5 system, it quickly became apparent that it was not a slam-dunk decision to upgrade. I’ll discuss a few of my concerns below.

Pros of Upgrading

One Less Device:  I joke about diabetic pants and never buy clothes without pockets. I currently carry an insulin pump, glucose tabs, Fitbit, Dexcom receiver, occasionally car keys, and often my phone. The possibility of eliminating the Dex receiver is appealing.

Optional Receiver:  If I don’t like using my iPhone as my receiver, I can always use the G4 Share receiver updated with the G5 software.

Sunlight:  The G4 receiver with its black background is difficult to read in bright sunlight and the red color used for lows is almost invisible. My Animas Vibe pump is even worse and the text is totally unreadable in bright light. My phone has a better display and is easy to see in all light conditions. (Note: Now that I have the Share receiver, I have the option of using my phone without upgrading to the G5, but I would have to carry the receiver.) Because the G5 software upgrade will result in a new receiver display with a white background, maybe it will be easier to read in the sun than the current G4 device.

“Free” G4 transmitter:  Because my current G4 system is working, I have not had to Golden Upgradeopen the new G4 transmitter. I do not have to return this transmitter when I get the G5 transmitters and can keep it as a back-up to use with my current non-Share receiver. This is appealing as I get close to Medicare with no coverage for CGMS.

The Price is Right:  The upgrade is free!

Cons of Upgrading

Expiration of G5 transmitters:  My understanding is that the G5 transmitters will last 3 months and drop dead after 108 days (90 days plus an 18-day grace period). If you have good insurance coverage for CGMS, this is not a big deal. With no CGM coverage, the loss of an extended life for a transmitter can be a big deal.

Bigger Transmitter:  The G5 transmitter has built-in Bluetooth and is bigger than the current slim G4 receiver. It is about the size of the first generation G4 transmitter.

Not Compatible with Animas Vibe:  Although I rarely use my Vibe as a Dex receiver, I like having the option especially when I want a waterproof receiver at the pool or beach. Because Dex transmitters cannot be turned off, it’s expensive to use a G4 and G5 transmitter concurrently. I assume the lack of G5 compatibly will also extend to the new Tandem t:slim G4 combo.

Disadvantages of Phone Receiver:  My phone is much larger than the Dex receiver and doesn’t fit into many of my pockets. Although I use my phone a lot, I do not keep it with me day and night. I have no idea whether the sounds and vibrations of CGM alarms on the phone will be adequate. It will take more button pushes to access BG data on my phone compared to the one-button push of the Dex receiver.

Other Thoughts

Medicare:  I currently have excellent CGM coverage with private insurance. When I move to Medicare in April 2017, I will have to self-fund a CGM unless Medicare regulations change. My guess is that a G4 transmitter with the Animas Vibe or the Tandem t:slim G4 will be the least expensive option because no other receiver is required. As discussed in my April 2015 review of the Vibe, I am not a fan of the Dexcom integration into the Vibe. But it works and is an option. As far as I know, both pumps will continue to use the outdated G4 software instead of the 505 update.

It is possible that under Medicare the G5 will be an equally cost-effective device if I do not need to purchase a new receiver every year. The G5 was approved by the FDA with the requirement that a receiver be provided to new patients. Is that a one-time requirement or will G5 users be required to purchase a new receiver every year when the old one (maybe unused) goes out of warranty?

Staying Current:  New CGM devices are gaining FDA approval at a much faster pace than in the past. It is likely that both the G4 and G5 will be outdated in a few years and maybe my current decision is just not a big deal. With the Animas Vibe and t:slim G4 tied to the G4, my guess is that the original G4 transmitter will be available for many years to come. The G5 may be a short-lived device on the way to the G6 which promises improved accuracy and reliability along with mobile capabilities. Another consideration is what the new Dexcom/Google collaboration will bring to the table.

Decision Deadline:  The Dexcom website indicates that “Upgrade offers are available until 60 days after the first G5 Mobile shipment.” However, I learned that because I purchased my G4 Share system through a distributor (Edgepark), I have only 30 days from the date of shipment to upgrade. I am looking at an upgrade deadline of early October rather than late November. Good thing I asked!

My Decision

I have decided to upgrade and will be sent my G5 transmitters in October. At this point I will upgrade my Share receiver to the G5 software. For the most part I am choosing to abandon my Animas Vibe as a receiver and become more hip by never again being separated from my phone. Frankly I don’t know whether this is the right or wrong decision or if it even matters. Dexcom is making the change incredibly easy and I have just decided to go with the newest kid on the block. If nothing else, I am thankful for having the #firstworldproblem of choosing which CGM system to use. I promise to let you know how it goes.

The Dexcom in Poetry

Laddie_Head Square

You are probably familiar with the poem “There was a Little Girl” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882). The first verse goes as follows:

THERE was a little girl,

And she had a little curl

  Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good

She was very, very good,

And when she was bad she was horrid.

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When I started this post, my aim was to compare my Dexcom G4 CGM to the little girl. I am a huge fan of my CGM and most of the time it is a trustworthy and reliable device. But occasionally it shrieks, spews out bad results, and stomps its little sensor feet just to remind me that it is imperfect and I shouldn’t expect constant excellence.

Screaming Girl

The more I looked at this photo, the more I began to realize that I was seeing my own reflection rather than my Dexcom. I can be very good at making optimal decisions when it comes to things like diet, exercise, and insulin. The “Good Me” takes the normal ups and downs of Type 1 in stride and spends a lot of time in range. Unfortunately the “Horrid Me” takes over at other times and makes bad decisions amidst frustration, self-criticism, and just not giving a damn. I feel helpless with my BG numbers and want to scream, throw things, and live a self-destructive life eating chocolate-covered donuts.

Dexcom: The Very Good:  In mid-August I had severe bronchitis and was prescribed oral steroids. As is typical with steroids, I experienced a huge rise in blood sugars and at one point was taking 5 (!) times my pre-steroid dose of insulin. Although I wasn’t seeing low blood sugars, I was worried about sleeping with such massive amounts of insulin on board. Adding to my vulnerability was the fact that my husband was out of the country on a business trip.

During the five days of steroids, my Dex G4 was as accurate as I have ever experienced as it tracked my blood sugars in a range from below 100 to the high 400’s. Most importantly it provided a safety net that if my BG tanked at night, it would repeatedly alarm until I responded. Without the CGM, I would have been terrified to be alone and probably would have needed to set hourly alarms to check my BG day and night.

Dexcom: The Very Bad:  Ten days ago I started a new sensor. I know that the first 24 hours of any sensor can be wonky, but this sensor site was the worst. Double up arrows in the high 200’s followed by double down arrows in the 40’s when my calibrated BG was between 100 and 125. Vibrations and alarms were driving me crazy. I finally turned off the receiver to give it a few hours to think about how it could improve. When I turned it back on, I continued to receive multiple alerts—some accurate and others absolutely unwarranted. Rather than throw the receiver out the window, I finally just turned off all of the alerts except for the low threshold. Eventually the sensor settled into reasonably good results.

Besides the occasional bad results of a new sensor, another thing that drives me crazy about the G4 is that after alerting me to a low, it continues to alarm long after my BG has returned to normal. Unfortunately that is a characteristic of the interstitial fluid that the CGM measures and I am not sure that there is a solution for this. But it would be nice if the G4 didn’t alert for a low when your BG is moving up:-)

Living with a Dexcom: The Good Me and the Bad Me:  Most of the time I live in harmony with my Dexcom. I do a good job of knowing when to trust it and how to optimally use the information it provides. One thing that I sometimes ignore is that the CGM is only as good as how I react to it. If things are rough in my diabetes life, I have the power to evaluate how I am using my CGM and make changes if necessary.

A lot of my recent frustrations with the Dex are related to alarm fatigue and data overload. There is not much that I can do to prevent a lousy sensor start or change the fact that interstitial fluid behaves differently than blood sugar. The Bad Me overreacts to sensor data and gets stressed by out-of-range BG numbers. I start making too many corrections that often lead to more erratic numbers. I start dismissing alerts without even looking at the receiver. I rage bolus to prevent highs. I eat junk food despite the inevitable cr*p results. I basically get burned out by diabetes.

The Good Me remembers that I am in charge of most of the settings on my CGM. After turning off most of the alerts last week, I lived with only the low alert of 70 for several days. I was amazed at how much less stress I experienced in relation to diabetes. I slept better and in general had improved BG numbers per my meter. I eventually turned back on the high alert, but at a threshold of 200 rather than 150. I didn’t change my personal goals for my BG range; I just reduced the Dexcom intrusions into my life. I look at my CGM often enough that except for the protection from undetected lows, maybe I am better off catching the changes myself rather than getting constant alarms for ups and downs. I have kept the rise and fall rate alerts turned off and have not missed them.

Summary:  If you have followed my blog for a while, you know that I was diagnosed long before home BG monitoring, insulin pumps, and even multiple daily injections. On one hand I work hard to have access to the latest and greatest technology. There is no doubt that my life with diabetes has been enhanced with the use of a pump and a CGM. At the same time I need to remember that beeps, bells, and whistles don’t guarantee good blood glucose numbers or mental health.

Currently I have turned off many of the Dexcom alarms and that is working for me. There is no guarantee that this will work for next week or next month. There is certainly no guarantee that it will work for you. But the only way to make things better when diabetes seems to be winning the battle is to try something new. Good or bad, it’s worth a try.

Please note that as I got this post ready to publish, my new Dexcom sensor alerted to a BG of 53. Two meter tests  of 100 and 106 confirmed my BG to be in range. Argh!!!

My Blue Ribbon First Place Change

6th Annual Diabetes Blog Week

Today’s Topic:  Today let’s talk about changes, in one or two ways.  Either tell us what you’d most like to see changed about diabetes, in any way.  This can be management tools, devices, medications, people’s perceptions, your own feelings – anything at all that you feel could use changing.  OR reflect back on some changes you or your loved one have seen or been through since being diagnosed with diabetes.  Were they expected or did they surprise you? To read all of the other posts in this category, click here.

Laddie_Head SquareHaving been diagnosed with diabetes in 1976, I have experienced a huge number of changes. Some, such as the advent of home blood glucose meters, were so long ago that I don’t remember the effect on me or my diabetes care. Others, such as my insulin pump, greatly increased my quality of life but didn’t improve my A1c.

By far the biggest improvement in my diabetes care as tracked by the change in my A1c and maybe in the stability of my blood sugars was the addition of Lantus to my diabetes regimen. Those of you who were diagnosed after the days of NPH missed out on the rollercoaster peaks and valleys of this “Not Particularly Helpful” insulin. There were definite benefits to NPH such as rarely needing a shot for lunch and getting to eat bolus-free candy bars at 4:30 PM in order to make it to dinner without a paramedic visit. But it was an intermediate-acting insulin that was slow to start working and then hit with a vengeance 6-9 hours after injection. The most difficult thing about NPH was its unpredictable variability from day to day.

Lantus was introduced in the United States in May 2001. At that point I was seeing an endocrinologist whom I liked a lot and was/still is quite renown in the world of diabetes. I remember one of my last appointments with him. He looked at my A1c and BG records (using a regimen of NPH, Regular, and Humalog insulins) and said something like: “You’re doing great and seem to be able to get anything to work. Keep doing what you’re doing and let’s not make any changes.” Soon after this appointment I left this endo’s practice for insurance reasons and switched to an internal medicine doctor as required for an endocrinology referral in my new network. At my first appointment with the Lantus First Placenew doctor, he looked at my medications and said something like: “Why in the world are you still on NPH and not taking Lantus?” I was far from a proactive patient in those days and probably had never heard of Lantus.

I started on Lantus immediately and four months later, my A1c had dropped 1.7 points from my test 5 months earlier. Even more amazingly, my A1c was 2.5 points lower than the test of 9 months previous. I had also lost the ten pounds that I had gained in my perimenopause 40’s. So much for an endocrinologist versus an internal medicine doctor…. I got some of my best diabetes care ever from this internal medicine doctor and did not return to an endocrinologist until several years later when I chose to begin using an insulin pump.

Lantus is not perfect by any means and these days many Type 1’s take two to three injections a day rather than the 2001 “promised land” of one injection a day. I am a very happy pumper in 2015 but know that if I had to go back to a regimen of Lantus/Levmir and Novolog/Humalog/Apidra, I would be totally fine. The major change would be that I would have to become comfortable injecting mealtime insulin in front of other people and probably take several injections of Lantus/Levemir per day.

I have decided to negotiate with Medicare who will be my insurer in 23 months. If Medicare will fund my Dexcom CGM, I promise to go back to injections and probably save the insurer money. Unfortunately under current regulations, that idea is a pipe dream and I will continue to pump and save my pennies to personally fund my Dexcom.

One thing that I will not do is to go back to NPH. Unless that is my only choice….

The Vibe After Two Months:  Part 2 – CGM Integration

Laddie_Head SquareIn Part 1 of this series, I discussed how the Animas Vibe performs poorly as a system in real time. Although the pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) are housed in the same hardware, the menu system often strands the user in no-man’s land where it is cumbersome to switch between CGM and insulin delivery functions. The CGM works as advertised but just not as well as the actual Dexcom receiver. The pump does its job of delivering insulin safely and reliably but doesn’t interact with the CGM except through annoying calibration alerts. It’s all okay; it’s just not great and the CGM and pump don’t add much value to each other. Today’s post is my impressions of the Vibe as a CGM.

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For the first month after I received my Animas Vibe, I used it exclusively as my CGM. The pump/CGM combo had some definite benefits, but the shortcomings drove me crazy and I went back to using my Dexcom receiver in Week 5. Rather than write a totally grouchy post, I will highlight some of the positives of the Vibe followed by my reality with those features.

The Positive:  The Vibe is the first insulin pump to be paired with the Dexcom G4 Platinum CGM.

The Reality:  My transmitter communicates well with the Vibe which is a reliable CGM receiver. Unfortunately by the time the Vibe was FDA-approved in November 2014, Dexcom had already released the 505 software update which will not be available to Vibe users. Looking at hardware, the Vibe was approved and ships with the 1st generation G4 transmitter despite the fact that the new low-profile transmitter is compatible. The highly anticipated G5 transmitter which will send data directly to a cell phone will not be compatible with the Vibe.

The Positive:  I like having one less device in my pocket when I leave the Dexcom receiver at home.

The Reality:  The software/hardware weaknesses of the Vibe result in a CGM device that is inferior to the Dexcom receiver. Some of the problems that I will discuss are small screen size, sluggish population of BG graphs, and multiple menus to navigate when shifting from CGM to pump functions.

The Positive:  I appreciate one-button access to the Data Screen which displays my BG number, the directional arrow, and my insulin-on-board (IOB) number.

The Reality:  The button is not a dedicated CGM button. When I am in the pump or CGM menus, it changes function and adjusts the brightness of the display. I hardly ever change the screen contrast and would prefer the ability to return to the CGM at any time with a one-button push.

The Positive:  The Vibe has a color, easy-to-read display.

The Reality:  I like the color display of the Vibe and have no problems with it indoors. Outdoors is another matter. I hike a lot in Arizona and shade is at a premium on the trail. I find that both the Vibe and the Dex receiver are unreadable in bright sunlight. This is a serious problem in my opinion and both Animas and Dexcom need to address the issue. One reason I should upgrade to the Dex Share receiver is that my iPhone is easy to read in any light conditions. (*2016 editPlease note that the Dexcom G5 receiver has corrected the sunlight problems of the G4.)

The Positive:  The Vibe is waterproof and has been a rugged device for me as was my Animas Ping.

The Reality:  That is my reality and kudos to Animas. Although I have not been using the Vibe CGM concurrently with my Dex receiver, I did so last week in anticipation of a Friday hike with numerous water crossings. It was a relief to leave the non-waterproof and more fragile Dexcom receiver at home. Although the transmitter signal is not necessarily reliable while swimming, it is a great option to have the ability to monitor your BG when in and out of the water.

The Positive:  The Vibe has customizable alarms for low and high blood sugars.

The Reality:  Some people prefer the Vibe alerts. Others prefer the Dex alerts. Some like having both devices active, especially at night. I don’t have a preference and miss very few alerts on either device.

The Positive:  You can download the Vibe to Diasend and see your pump and CGM data in compilation reports.

The Reality:  The reports are great and contain the same CGM data that a download of the Dexcom receiver provides. Unfortunately It is incredibly slow to download the Vibe. You need to unhook and suspend the pump and then use the awkward dongle device to send data to Diasend. I have an old Windows computer and the Animas download rarely works quickly for me. It usually takes five to seven minutes for a successful download. In comparison I can reliably download my Dex receiver to Diasend in 45 seconds.

My Main Gripes:

**** The CGM graphs are very slow to populate. Rather than pop up immediately, each graph appears as though someone is drawing it. After viewing the Data Screen as my starting screen, I like to see the 3-hour graph. I have to watch the 1-hour screen populate and then wait for the 3-hour graph to draw. The next time I push the CGM button with the pump in sleep mode, it will start with the screen I left off on during my previous session. So if I want to start my next session with the Data Screen, I have to go through the complete cycle of graphs (1-, 3-, 6-, 12-, 24-hour) or go back the way I came (1-, 3-, 1-hr) to return to that screen before the pump times out. Because of the tedious refreshing of the screens, I tend to stop looking at the graphs on the Vibe and stick with the Data Screen.  Essentially I start using my CGM in static mode. I see the BG number and directional arrow but have none of the historical context provided by the graphs.

**** A second problem with the Vibe CGM is that the display is small. The Dexcom receiver has a landscape rectangle screen. The black window of the Vibe appears to be a landscape rectangle until you see that the active part of the screen is square and actually a bit taller than wide. When you combine the small size of the graphs with the fact that the hatch marks have no time labels (for example 10AM, 8AM), it is difficult to interpret the graphs. The length of the BG tracing (not including the graph axis) on the Dex receiver is 1.5 inches. The length of the same line on the Vibe is .8125 inches which is just slightly more than half (54%) the width of the Dex.

**** A third problem with the CGM functions of the Vibe is that when I wake my pump through the CGM button, I am then in “no man’s land” in relation to the rest of my pump functions. From the Data Screen, I can either use directional arrows to see CGM graphs or press the OK button which takes me to the CGM menu. If I want to get to the Main Screen of the pump to bolus or adjust basal, I need to scroll down through the entire CGM menu before I can select the Main Menu.

Below you will find a video (my first ever!) showing the button-pushes to navigate through the Vibe menus. (Please ignore the gaps in the tracings which are primarily due to a new sensor start-up.)

**** A final problem is that the navigation of the CGM functions seems to ignore which features are more important and used most often. When I get an alert for a low or high blood sugar, it doesn’t display the number. I need to push OK to acknowledge the alert and that sends me to the CGM menu. It then highlights the top line which is BG Calibration. I then scroll down and select Trend Graphs to view my BG number. What is a one-button push on the Dex receiver is now a 3-button push. When you’re low, bg calibration is low priority!

**** One Vibe alert that I hate and am not able to silence is the calibration prompt. When the CGM is active and I input a blood glucose reading as part of a bolus calculation, it asks if I want to use the reading to calibrate. Although I can ignore the alert and it will time out, it always beeps. Originally I had my “Other” alerts set on vibrate, and this screen resulted in a series of four(!) vibrations. Since it is only one beep when I have it set on low, I don’t quite understand the four vibrations. Although a twice daily calibration is important for accurate CGM performance, the Vibe seems to give it unwarranted attention by placing it at the top of the CGM menu and then not allowing the elimination of the audio/vibration alarm.

Summary:

At the moment I expect that I will continue to use the Dexcom receiver and leave the CGM turned off on the Vibe. At the same time I appreciate the option to use the Vibe as a CGM and will occasionally use it for vacations, water activities, or when I want one less thing to carry. Maybe over time I will change my mind. If you are considering the Vibe, a great blogpost to read is by a Canadian T1 athlete who did change his mind and is now using the Vibe exclusively.

As much as I believe that Animas should have gone back to the drawing board before releasing a pump/CGM combo in the USA, it is still good to have another tech option for people with diabetes. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series where I evaluate the Vibe as a standalone pump and discuss how it differs from its predecessor, the Animas Ping.

The Vibe After Two Months:  Part 1 – Report Card

Laddie_Head SquareI have been using the Animas Vibe for two months. I believe that the decision to upgrade from my two-year old Ping was a good one and I am content that this will be my pump until the warranty expires in November 2016. The basis of this satisfaction surprises me because the reasons I like the pump have little to do with why I thought I wanted it.

I am writing a 3-part series about my experience. Today will be an overall report card for the Vibe, primarily discussing whether it makes the grade as a pump/CGM system. Part 2 will be an evaluation of how the Vibe performs as a CGM receiver. Part 3 will be an evaluation of the Vibe as a stand-alone pump.

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In November 2012 I made the decision to purchase the Animas Ping because it was in line to be the first pump integrated with a Dexcom CGM. Despite poor results with the Medtronic SofSensors, I had really liked the integration of CGM data into my Revel pump. After using a Medtronic pump along with a Dexcom CGM for several years, I strongly believed that I wanted a single device merging my insulin pump and CGM.

When the Vibe was finally released in January 2015, I began to question the wisdom of following through with the upgrade. I was concerned that the CGM software was already out-of-date, that future Dexcom transmitters would lack compatibility with the Vibe, and that I might have insurance problems getting a new CGM system because the Vibe functions as a CGM receiver. After meeting with an Animas Rep in early February, I made the decision to follow through with the upgrade. You can read about that decision and my early impressions of the pump here.

After two months, I am happy with the Vibe as a pump, but I am back to using the Dexcom receiver full-time. In my opinion, the Vibe gets a poor grade as a SYSTEM in real time and earns a good grade in reviewal made. To clarify, the integration of the CGM into what is essentially an Animas Ping pump is clumsy and occasionally nonsensical when it comes to the decisions/actions that I make with my pump and CGM on a daily basis. It is difficult to move from the CGM functions of the device to the insulin pump functions. Unlike the Medtronic “system”, there is no meter that sends BG numbers automatically to the pump. At the same time because I can download the Vibe to Diasend along with my BG meters, Dexcom receiver, and now even my Fitbit (!), I have a great platform for merging and reviewing my diabetes and health data.

In a January review of the Vibe, Mike Hoskins of Diabetes Mine mentioned that his Animas trainer talked about the Vibe “in terms of a dwelling — the two components used to be separate housing units, but now they co-exist under the same roof and are more like different rooms within one big home.” That is a great image, but I take it even further to say that the Vibe is a duplex with the pump in one unit and the CGM in the other. They are adjacent to each other, but they have separate entrances and there are no adjoining doors. To get from one device to the other, you must go outside and walk down the sidewalk to the other side of the building. Rather than adding value to each other, I find that the CGM part of the Vibe makes the pump functions more cumbersome than they are when the CGM is disabled.

Duplex Vibe

The only time that the Vibe works well as a system is when all of my devices have been downloaded to Diasend. In reviewal mode, it is a success because I can see reports merging  pump and meter data with my CGM. Unfortunately it is time-consuming to download everything (especially the Vibe) to Diasend, so it is unlikely that I will do this frequently. I am starting to get a little cyborg excitement envisioning an Apple watch showing real-time Dex tracings, Fitbit steps, and insulin pump data. A brave new world for sure and definitely not what the Vibe delivers.

In the next post in this series, I will write about how the Vibe functions as a CGM device and talk about what I consider some of the shortcomings of the Dexcom integration. Part 3 of the series will highlight my views on the Vibe as a stand-alone pump.

As a hint of what is to come, I like the Vibe as a pump. At the same time, I have become comfortable with the idea that longterm my CGM data is going to end up on my phone, Apple/Pebble watch, or some other device. Unless the CGM integration improves the function of the pump and does more than be a poor replacement for a Dex receiver in my pocket, a pump/CGM combo doesn’t seem to add much value to my diabetes life.

My Vibe Decision

Laddie_Head SquareA photo is worth a thousand words and the photo below shares that I decided to upgrade to the Vibe.

After I published  “The Vibe: Should I Upgrade?” on Feb. 5, a lot of things happened in the next 24 hours. As I mentioned in the blogpost, I was scheduled to meet with an Animas rep that afternoon to see the pump live.

The Animas rep was very nice and professional as she showed me the Vibe and allowed IMG_1118me to push buttons. I was immediately surprised that I did not dislike the pump and thought I could live with the CGM graphs on the small screen. Although I am still convinced that the design of all/almost all insulin pumps leaves a lot to be desired, I left the meeting with an incredible result: I didn’t hate the Vibe. I liked it enough that I decided on the spot that I would upgrade.

Amazingly, the next morning someone from Animas called to confirm my color selection for the Vibe (Blue!) and to indicate that she was ready to process the order. The pump was scheduled to be delivered on the next Thursday. At this point things became complicated as she called back to say that there was a problem with the credit card on file. After she couldn’t get three different credit cards to work, I started to wonder if I was on the Animas Sh*t List because of numerous negative comments about the Ping and Vibe on my blog.

The problem was finally resolved on Tuesday and despite the delay, I was promised a Thursday delivery. In fact Thursday morning at 9:00AM my Animas contact promised that the pump would be delivered that day. I didn’t believe her because UPS hadn’t even activated the tracking number yet. Of course the pump was not delivered on Thursday and I was frustrated because of the many things I had cancelled to stay home. At the same time the day was not a total waste because I cleaned most of the house and finished a couple of chores I had been avoiding. Finally UPS activated the tracking number and showed a Friday delivery.

I have now been using the Vibe for 4 days. Do I love it? No. Do I think the upgrade was the right decision? Yes, for several reasons.

  1. I was content with the Dexcom G4 and wasn’t convinced that I was having better results with the recent software upgrade. Therefore I have decided not to stress over the lack of the G4AP (Artificial Pancreas algorithm) software update in the Vibe.
  2. I am very happy to have less one medical device in my pockets.
  3. I have a history of losing my Dexcom receiver in bed at night. Now all I have to do is find the pump tubing and reel in the CGM like a 5-pound walleye.
  4. There are some improvements in the menu system, although not as many as I think are needed.
  5. This decision is only binding for 21 months and then I will select my last pump before Medicare. My choice now was to stay with the Ping or upgrade to the Vibe. The Snap, the t:slim, the Medtronic 530G, and other pumps were not part of the decision. It was Ping vs. Vibe and nothing else.
  6. Because I got the pump directly from Animas, I am going to optimistically assume that there will be no insurance ramifications when it is time to get a new Dexcom receiver. Maybe I will be so happy with the Vibe that I won’t even bother with another receiver.

Right now I am stumbling through the Vibe menus primarily because I was so adept at the Ping. One important feature of the Vibe is the ability to populate the recommended bolus by pressing the Up arrow. Unfortunately I am still Pinging and start to scroll before I remember to simply press the Up button. I will adjust and I – just – need – to – slow – down.

My biggest frustration is how many button pushes it takes to get from the CGM screens to the bolus menu. It is five/six button pushes to move from the CGM screen to the Bolus ezCarb/ezBG menu. The lack of an Esc or Back button on Animas pumps is a major design flaw IMO. In his review of the Vibe, Mike Hoskins of Diabetes Mine talked about the pump and the CGM living in the same house but being different rooms:

You can think of this system in terms of a dwelling — the two components used to be separate housing units, but now they co-exist under the same roof and are more like different rooms within one big home.

That’s my biggest takeaway. I have a pump. I have a CGM. They are in the same piece of hardware, but they are totally separate. In fact it seems that Animas forgot to even build a door between the two rooms.

With the Vibe I am finding that I am using the CGM in “static mode.” I push the button to see the CGM Data Screen showing my BG number, the trend arrow, and the insulin on board (IOB). Because it takes so long to change screens to the 1-hour, 3-hour, and other CGM trend screens, I usually don’t bother. I like the 3-hour screen and wish that I could just push the Up button twice to get there. But no, I have to wait for the 1-hour graph to load before I can push the button again to move to the 3-hour screen.

When I began using the Vibe, I made the decision to go all-in and not continue to use my Dexcom receiver. I can always go back to using the Dex receiver at any time and be no worse off than before the upgrade, but I hope to ultimately be happy using one integrated device. So far I believe that the pump functions of the Vibe are an improvement over the Ping, but for me the CGM part is a definite downgrade from the Dex receiver. Chances are that I will get used to it and be fine.

In my previous Vibe blogpost I provided links to other reviews of the Vibe. Since then I have read a couple others that you might be interested in.

Active Diabetic is a young Canadian who is an incredible athlete. His bio minimizes his achievements:  “I’m a cyclist, runner, climber, backpacker and oh yeah, I’m an insulin dependent diabetic too!” I “met” him last year during Diabetes Blog Week and was very inspired by his accomplishments and attitude. In May he published a blogpost that indicated that he would use the Dex receiver rather than deal with the Vibe for his CGM. But 10 days ago he wrote a follow-up post and shared that he is totally on board with the Vibe. Both posts are well-written and super informative, so check them out.

Kerri of Six Until Me wrote a post last week sharing her thoughts on the Vibe after using it for a couple of weeks. As always, you’ll find some helpful information.

Tarra who uses a Dexcom in tandem with Duchess, her diabetes alert dog, is mostly happy with her Vibe. Check out her post from yesterday.

Sara of Moments of Wonderful has just started the Vibe and today posted a video highlighting a few of the Vibe features.

I’m okay with my Vibe but not in love. It is definitely a #firstworldproblem that I can complain about a pump/CGM combo. As life goes, it’s pretty insignificant that the color screens are slow and I have to wait a few seconds for the graphs to populate. But children dying because they lack access to insulin. That’s important. If you haven’t donated to Spare a Rose, Save a Child, it is not too late. Click here and donate. No donation is too small and every gift makes a difference.

The Vibe: Should I Upgrade?

Laddie_Head SquareAfter eight years of using Medtronic pumps, I switched to the Animas Ping in 2012 to be eligible for the $99 upgrade to the highly anticipated Animas Vibe. I am totally committed to Dexcom and the Vibe was in line to be the first pump released in the US with Dexcom integration. Two-plus years later the Vibe has finally been approved by the FDA and is actively shipping.

I ordered my upgrade before noon on the first day that Animas accepted orders. Many people are getting delivery of their pumps, but I haven’t heard a peep. Did everyone order before me or is it because my Ping was supplied through Edgepark rather than directly from Animas? I have no idea how Animas is determining shipping order, but I hope that I have not been lost in their system. “Call Animas” is on my To Do list.

Last week I picked up the phone to contact Animas and then stopped. Do I really want the Vibe?

The Vibe (as will the t:slim/Dex integrated pump) is based on the Dexcom G4. The recent G4AP (Artificial Pancreas algorithm) software update will not be included nor will any future improvements in the Dexcom platform.

Unfortunately when a pump/CGM combo is approved by the FDA, the device is “frozen” in time with the hardware configuration as approved. I don’t know how software updates are handled by the FDA, but one source told me that the Vibe as configured will not allow software changes. Now that Dexcom has multiple hardware and software upgrades in the pipeline, a 4-year (or for me a 2-year) commitment to an older version of the Dex might be a bad decision. In the short run I can keep using my Dex receiver to access the new software. The just-released Share receiver will also be an option because it is compatible with the current generation of transmitters.

Now a word on the “current generation of transmitters.” Vibe purchasers new to CGM are being sent the high-profile Dex transmitters that were replaced by smaller transmitters a few months ago. I assume that the Vibe was submitted to the FDA with the old transmitter and wonder if it will take another FDA submission to change that. Fortunately the only difference between the transmitters is size although I personally can’t wait to get the small transmitter when my warranty expires in February. The new transmitter is compatible with the Vibe.

Dexcom is already talking about the next generation G5 transmitter that will have the ability to communicate directly with cell phones without the use of a receiver. The G5 mobile system transmitter will not be compatible with the Vibe.

pump_animas_vibeMy Animas warranty expires in December 2016 and I should probably just get the Vibe. The fact that it will populate the recommended bolus rather than scrolling up from zero is a huge improvement. Because I will pay the upgrade fee out-of-pocket, technically my insurance company shouldn’t know that I have the Vibe and then potentially refuse reimbursement for a Dexcom receiver when that warranty expires in August.

Unfortunately it seems that nothing is private when it comes to medical things. My doctor has to write orders for the Vibe and I wonder if Edgepark will be the shipper rather than Animas. Somehow I believe my insurance company will end up knowing about the switch. Maybe I am just being paranoid. Everyone else has been assuming that they will have no problems continuing to use the Dex receiver if that is their choice. But I think that many of us will see the day when insurance companies refuse to cover the cost of CGM receivers because we have pumps functioning as receivers.

I have not yet read one review of the Vibe that is overwhelmingly positive and I know of one person who has already returned it. Kerri Sparling’s preliminary review was the closest to being positive because she didn’t address any of the negatives. She promised a more complete review later and I will be interested to see what she writes. She is upfront about her sponsorship relationship with Animas and you can trust her when she says that her opinions are not for sale. Another Ping user, Sara at Moments of Wonderful also wrote about looking forward to receiving her Vibe. In my opinion anyone who has been using the Ping (except for fans of the Ping meter/remote) will most likely see the Vibe in a more positive light than users of other pumps. There is a definite learning curve to adjusting to the idiosyncrasies of Animas pumps.

Most non-Ping reviewers of the Vibe have been highly critical of the poor menu system, the low resolution color screen, the lag time of button pushes, and other negatives. I believe that Johnson & Johnson missed the boat by not starting from scratch when designing this pump. IMO Mike Hoskins of Diabetes Mine summed it up best:

my honest final verdict is this: the Vibe feels like an outdated, counter-intuitive medical device that seems like it would have been more relevant if released several years ago as promised. Today, it doesn’t feel innovative, but rather like a device that’s filling a market need for choice only because it promised that a long time ago, and it’s “better late than never.”

When I purchased the Ping, I underestimated how much I would hate the menu system and how long I would regret the decision. Because I have no option to change pumps until 2016, my feelings about the Ping are inconsequential as I make my upgrade decision. Frankly two years after the purchase, I have to admit that I have become a whiz at moving through the menus; the scrolling and button pushes have become second nature and I rarely think about them anymore. But it took a long time. The Ping has been a workhorse for me with no technical problems in two years. (I had my pump replaced once due to cracking of the battery compartment, but it was a quick process with good customer service.) Another important feature of the Ping is the waterproof guarantee. With the Vibe I like the idea of having a waterproof CGM receiver.

So what am I going to do? Today I am meeting with an Animas rep to get a hands-on look at the Vibe. Some early reviews have criticized how many button pushes it takes to access the CGM info and how slow the pump moves from screen to screen. The display is small and a different shape than the Dexcom receiver. If I upgrade, will I even use the CGM part of the pump except on an occasional basis? Is it worth $99 to populate the bolus recommendation with the push of one button? Will I be able to see the Vibe CGM in the sunlight because I find it impossible to see my Ping screen when hiking? (The Dexcom is bad in the sun; the Ping is worse.) Is there a risk that when my Dexcom receiver goes out of warranty that my insurance will not approve a new one because the Vibe functions as a receiver?

Had Animas contacted me about shipping the Vibe a few weeks ago, I would have jumped on board immediately. Now I am not so sure.

I’ll keep you updated on what I decide. I wish that I felt excited about getting the Vibe and maybe I will be once I make the decision. At some point I need to contact Animas. Or maybe they will get in touch with me….

If you’d like to read recent reviews of the Vibe, here are some to check out:

Kerri Sparling at Six Until Me

Melissa Lee at A Sweet Life

Adam Brown at Diatribe

Mike Hoskins at Diabetes Mine

Manny Hernandez at Ask Manny

Sara Nicastro at Moments of Wonderful