Tandem t:slim X2 and Dexcom G5:  It takes Flexibility

Last Wednesday I received my email from Tandem with the upgrade code to add Dexcom G5 integration to my pump. A great feature of the t:slim X2 is the ability to perform software updates at home rather than need a hardware replacement every time new capabilities are added to the pump. This first X2 software update adds Dexcom G5 receiver functions to the pump in anticipation of future updates adding threshold suspend and other insulin dosing algorithms. Tandem has a catchy slogan for the X2: “The pump that gets updated, not outdated.”

My Upgrade Experience

I followed the instructions for the upgrade and for the most part, it went well. I had one glitch where an error code indicated that my pump was communicating with another device. I restarted the upgrade and everything went fine. I had not been using my Dexcom receiver and I was assured by other X2 users on Facebook that I could leave the G5 app running on my iPhone and Apple Watch. (Note: the Dexcom G5 transmitter can only communicate with one receiver and one smart device. You cannot use the X2 and the G5 receiver at the same time.)

For the first hour I received an unbroken every-5 minute tracing of my Dexcom readings. After that it went haywire and I got only 2 readings in the next hour. I continued to get multiple Out of Range alerts as the day went on.

When you use a tubed pump, your pump is never far away from your CGM transmitter. My Tandem pump was in a pocket. My Dexcom transmitter was on my arm. My iPhone was on the table, in a pocket, in the kitchen, in my purse and not missing a dot. The pump was struggling with 12 inches.

I called Tandem twice over the next couple of hours and with a little troubleshooting it was apparent that I shouldn’t be having such problems. As always, the Tandem reps were helpful and the second rep indicated that many similar problems had been solved by a new transmitter. My current transmitter has been in use for a month and seemingly fine, but I wasn’t going to argue with trying a new transmitter.

I received the new transmitter on Saturday and will begin using it with my next sensor.

Meanwhile I have begun to get better communication with my Dex sensor, but it is not because the pump is better at picking up the signal. It is because I am making changes. I initially kept my pump in my left front pocket with the sensor on my right arm. I am now wearing the pump clipped to my waistband on the right side. I still lose signal when I sit in my normal “easy chair” and my arm is against the back cushion. (My phone does not lose signal in this scenario.) But I am getting better at moving to the right side of the chair and keeping my arm on the armrest so that the transmitter is not obstructed. I prefer my pump in my pocket, but I can get used to the waistband.

Basically I am being flexible to make things work.

Pump Case

Somehow every change I make impacts something else. Wearing the pump on my waistband has brought back the problem that the clip on the new case is neither tight enough nor long enough to keep the pump secure in the vertical position. Over two days it fell off 5 or 6 times and was saved from hitting the floor only by yanking on my infusion set. Miraculously the infusion set never ripped off. I decided to do a hack of adding a piece of Velcro to the tip of the clip. Bad hack. The Velcro made it difficult to slide the pump onto my waistband. Ultimately I broke the clip off the case by trying to open it wide to pull onto my pants. Definitely user error and because I was given the case for free, I will eventually just order another one.

Second hack. I am back to using a Nite Ize Hip Clip that is attached directly to the pump. When I used this clip a few months back, it also tended to fall off my waistband but not as badly as the Tandem case. This time I put a small piece of Velcro on the pump side of the clip and it hasn’t fallen off once. Of course so far it is only a 3-day experiment.

I am not done yet with figuring out a case hack and think it will involve a Nite Ize clip attached to the Tandem case and a small piece of Velcro. Or maybe just Velcro attached to the case using the Tandem clip. Although the Hip Clip attached directly to the pump is working OK, I prefer the protection of a case. My false occlusion alarms were eliminated by using a case and I am hesitant to go without one. I’ll definitely write another blogpost once I decide on an ultimate fix.

Summary

I like having my G5 information on my pump and I will continue to be as flexible as possible to make it work. Although there is some frustration that my relationship with the X2 is a bit temperamental—first due to occlusion alarms and now to CGM reception—I am still very happy with the pump. In general if I go back and look at the  various pumps and CGMs that I have used since 2005, they have all required me to learn, change, and be flexible to ensure success.

Medicare?

Now I get to the nitty-gritty of this newest update. What are the Medicare repercussions??? I’m flexible, but I can’t say the same thing for Medicare.

I have discussed more than once the stupidity of the Medicare ban on smartphone use for Dexcom G5 users. I’m not going there today. However, I have been hoping that because the Tandem X2 is durable medical equipment (DME) and not a smartphone that I will be able to use it as my CGM receiver instead of the Dexcom receiver.

When I read the Noridian Medicare coding and coverage document released in March, I do not believe that the X2 violates the guidelines:

“Coverage of the CGM system supply allowance is limited to those therapeutic CGM systems where the beneficiary ONLY uses a receiver classified as DME to display glucose data.  If a beneficiary uses a non-DME device (smart phone, tablet, etc.) as the display device, either separately or in combination with a receiver classified as DME, the supply allowance is non-covered by Medicare.”

Unfortunately I have heard from several sources that Dexcom is instructing Medicare customers that current Medicare instructions mandate use of the Dexcom receiver. I suppose justification for that comes from the first sentence of the Noridian document: “The Dexcom G5® Mobile CGM System is currently the only FDA-approved device with a “non-adjunctive” indication.” Although my Tandem pump works with the G5 Mobile CGM System, it is technically not part of the system according to Medicare. Some Tandem pumpers have also been told by Tandem that the X2 is currently not approved by Medicare to be used as a Dexcom G5 receiver.

I continue to be optimistic that Medicare regulations regarding the Dexcom G5 will be changed to allow use of a smartphone and use of the Tandem X2. I have no predictions for a timetable for those changes. In the short run I am still using Dexcom supplies purchased before Medicare and continue to use my iPhone, Apple Watch, and Tandem X2 pump. In the long run I will follow Medicare regulations because CGM coverage is too valuable to risk losing that coverage.

As always with diabetes, I will be flexible.

 

My Review of the Tandem t:case

On the surface it seems that designing a case for an insulin pump should be an easy task. The new t:case for Tandem t:slim pumps demonstrates that it is actually more complicated than that and that it might be impossible to design one case that will make everyone happy.

Two weeks ago the news spread like wildfire around the Tandem community that we could finally order the long-awaited t:case. A limited selection of colors was offered at that time, but the full spectrum (Black, Blue, Olive Fatigue, Pink, Purple, and Turquoise) is now available on Amazon. Some colors are in stock with others back-ordered until August 5. The Tandem online store continues to show most colors as “Coming Soon” but keep checking. The introductory price of $19.95 is guaranteed until August 31 after which the price may increase to $24.95.

The previous t:clip case was available in fun mix-and-match colors. It looked great, but had major problems with a top heavy design and the tendency to fall off user waistbands. The clip was too bulky for pocket use although some women liked that it was easy to attach the pump to their bras. Frequent breakages and replacements were common. I personally hated this case. Some users liked the t:slider case and I used the removable part of that case in my pocket.

The t:slider case has not been available through the Tandem online store for many months and the remaining stock of t:clip cases shows availability only in Flash Green and Sunset Orange. Leatherette cases are still offered and include the t:flip, the t:holster, and the t:wallet.

One thing I like about Tandem is the importance of design. The t:slim is a sleek and modern pump and I don’t think that Tandem would be satisfied with a case that wasn’t equally attractive. I also think that after the track record of the flawed t:clip case that it was important to “get it right” this time.

So did they get it right?

Yes and no.

The Yes:

The case is made out of what seems to be a very strong plastic and there is no flimsy clip or hinge to break. I think that the case will be durable and provide excellent protection for my pump.

The cutouts make a lot of sense and allow the user to charge the pump and change cartridges without removing the case. (That is good because it is not easy to remove the pump from the case.) My photo below shows a view of the back of the case with the many cut-outs.

The removable clip allows the pump to be worn in a vertical or horizontal orientation. For those  who carry the pump in their pocket, the clip can easily be removed. However, it is so low profile that you won’t be bothered by just leaving it on. The clip is made of stainless steel and seems unlikely to break or bend.

The No:

In my opinion Tandem made a mistake in how the clip attaches for horizontal wear. Those who wear the pump horizontally usually do not want to remove the pump from their waistband to see the screen or program pump functions. Therefore it makes sense for the pump to be oriented upside down so that when it is lifted up it is right side up for the viewer. The t:case orients the pump so that it is upside down when the user lifts it up. This is a big problem for those who are using the t:slim G4 for their CGM data and for those X2 users who will soon be able to see their Dexcom G5 data. Another annoyance about this clip position is that the tubing comes out at the bottom of the pump which increases the opportunity for tubing to hang down below your clothes and to jump out at doorknobs.

The Meh:

The t:slim screen is turned on and off by pushing the silver T:button at the top of the pump. My guess is that I push that button 30 times a day. For unknown reasons Tandem added a plastic cover over this button on the t:case. Previous cases just have a cutout. Unfortunately I found that the button cover made it difficult to turn on my pump. Sometimes it worked the first time; other times I had to push the button 4-5 times. I have arthritis in my hands and am unwilling to tax my joints just to turn on my pump.

Fortunately this was a problem easily fixed. The photo below shows my X-ACTO knife solution.

I found the clip to be quite secure when wearing the pump horizontally, but as I explained above, lifting up the pump to an upside down view doesn’t work for me. IMO the clip is slightly too short when wearing the pump vertically and is not as tight on my waistband as I would like. But it is okay and I know to be careful.

Tasks like removing the pump from the case and changing the clip orientation are not straightforward and no instructions are provided with the case. Fortunately there are instructions available on the Tandem website but that link is not included with the case.

User Feedback on Facebook:

“After wearing my pump all day in the new case, I have to say, I really like this new style case…ALOT! “

“I love my new (pink) case so much I now also have a black one and a purple one on backorder lol”

“Okay, so I may be the odd person out, but I’m not feeling the new case. I don’t like the clip…”

Addressing the cover on the silver T:button — “I’ve found mine getting easier to press- although it’s possible that it’s just my hand getting stronger”

“I just received the new hard case they have designed. No more plastic clips!! Has a metal clip and you can change the cartridge without taking the pump out of the case. I love it!”

“Anyone else annoyed that the pump is upside down with the new t:case when you look at it?! Why didn’t they put the clip on the other side?!”

Addressing the clip placement for horizontal use — “My understanding is they took in feedback from a lot of pump users so either no one thought of that or there were technical limitations that prevent it or they ignored the user feedback.”

“I love it! It’s way more comfortable to wear, and it doesn’t dig in like the old style did. And best of all…it isn’t top heavy anymore!”

“I really still don’t like it. I can’t put it in the center of my bra, which is where I normally wear it, and it won’t stay on my waistband. Putting it in my pocket makes my pants slide down and/or the tubing hangs out.”

“Just got the new clip for the pump but it didn’t come with any information on how to put it on can anyone help me out with this??”

“How do you flip the metal clip on the new case?”

“It is great. I can use the clip on a pair of shorts or put it in the pocket of my trousers without removing the clip.”

“My new T:case came…. WHEEEEE!”

Summary:

I am happy with my t:case. It is compact, functional, and attractive. Although I think the clip design makes a horizontal orientation an unlikely wear for me, I am satisfied to use it vertically or in my pocket. I have previously written that my problem with false occlusion alarms on my X2 was solved by using a case. Whether it is a temperature issue or the cutout for the vent holes, the cases have completely eliminated my alarm problems.

I think that no one could create a case that would please everyone. We each have unique needs and opinions. The t:case is mostly a win for Tandem, but IMO the horizontal clip position is a big problem—especially for integrated CGM use. I know that Tandem had many customers test drive the case and I wonder why the horizontal wear issue was not fixed. Also, did they consider older and disabled users? If it were not for my X-ACTO knife, I would not be able to use this case because of the difficulty of using the T:button. And I am not really that old or very disabled….

Here is a short instructional video about the t:case. I am currently using a black case but also ordered a pink one. In terms of color, I think that the video depicts the color of the cases much better than the Amazon photos.

 

Please note that this post discusses the t:case for the t:slim, t:slim G4, and t:slim X2 pumps. The t:case 480 is for t:flex pumps and is available in black and purple. The t:case 480 only allows a vertical orientation because of the larger insulin cartridge.

A 5-Month Review of the Tandem t:slim X2

I began using the Tandem t:slim X2 insulin pump in mid-December. In February I wrote a mostly-favorable review of the pump, but indicated that I was struggling with user-error problems and occlusion alarms that stopped insulin delivery. In March I wrote a post indicating that I had found a solution to the false occlusions, but it may have been a premature claim to success. I am now 5+ months into using the pump and thought I’d give an update on my experiences.

Overall Satisfaction:

I am happy with my Tandem pump.

The things I liked before I still like. I enjoy the contemporary looks of the pump and the touchscreen menu navigation. I appreciate being able to fine-tune settings although I don’t always take advantage of that capability. I like being able to easily see my Insulin on Board with one button push. I like that I can see the pump screen when outside in bright sunlight.

I have trained myself to avoid most of the user-error problems that I previously discussed. After filling the cannula of a new infusion set, I patiently wait until I arrive at the screen to resume insulin. I still get occasional Incomplete Bolus alarms when I put in a BG number to see if I need a correction. If I don’t need a correction I often forget to back out of the bolus menu and end up with an alert. I now get an A+ in remembering not to detach my pump in the middle of a bolus. It has been an adjustment moving from the fast bolus delivery of Animas pumps to the delayed delivery of a t:slim, but I have adapted.

Still Annoyed:

I still hate the pigtail on the pump tubing. It often makes the tubing stick out of my pocket which is unsightly and a doorknob risk. I also dislike how long it takes to fill a cartridge. I know that the X2 is faster than the original t:slim, but it is not a one or two minute task as with previous pumps.

Tandem recently announced that it will convert the luer lock connector at the pigtail to a proprietary connector called the t:lock. The purpose of this change is to reduce the time and insulin required to fill the cartridge and tubing. The downside of this conversion is that only Tandem proprietary infusion sets will be compatible. For me that is no problem because I use Comfort Shorts, a Tandem-supported set. I also understand that this change should help Tandem’s financial bottom line and I can’t oppose that. Some t:slim users, particularly those using non-supported sets such as the Cleo, Orbit 90, and Animas Inset, are enraged that Tandem is going the Medtronic route of proprietary sets.

I continue to dislike the Min Basal alerts. They happen a minute or two after I have set a temporary basal of zero and are annoying. I suspect that the alerts are the pump sensing the basal amount rather than the result of what I have just programmed. So maybe it is a safety issue. But it’s still annoying. If the pump questioned my temp basal amount right away, it would be better than interrupting me a few minutes later. At least this alert doesn’t stop insulin delivery, so it stays in the “annoyed” category.

Avoiding Occlusion Alarms:

When I wrote my initial review of my t:slim X2, I was unnerved by the fact that I was experiencing weekly occlusion alarms that resulted in a stoppage of insulin. Having pumped for 12 years with no such alarms, I knew that they were false and related to the pump not my infusion sets. In March I wrote a blogpost describing what I thought was a workable solution to the problem. I began using a Nite Ize clip and keeping the pump out of my pocket. The blogpost of course jinxed me and I had 3 occlusion alarms the next week. However, in fairness to Tandem, those alarms all happened with the same infusion set and maybe it was a site problem.

When I flew back to Minnesota in mid-April, I set off the TSA metal detector. As a PreChek traveler I am used to never declaring my pump and speeding through security. The downside of the Nite Ize clip is that it can’t be removed and ensures an airport pat-down every time. Because I set off the metal detector on my only other flight with the t:slim, I am afraid that the pump itself might have enough metal to always alarm, but I hope not.

I decided to remove the Nite Ize clip which wasn’t tight enough anyway. I wanted to go back to carrying the pump in my pocket and knew that doing that without a case was a recipe for occlusion alarms. Meanwhile a Tandem tech suggested the removable part of the t:slider case for use in my pocket. He indicated that the occlusions were a temperature problem and this case would resolve that. It is essentially a t:clip case without the annoying clip. I have used this case with my pump in my pocket for 6 weeks without a single occlusion alarm. For working out I put the pump in a Running Buddy Mini case on my waistband.

I made one other change that might be responsible for eliminating occlusion alarms. Rather than follow the Tandem instruction video for filling my cartridge, I do two things differently. After pulling air out of the cartridge with the insulin-filled syringe, I do not release the plunger as instructed. I hold it tight so that the air stays at the top of the syringe as I remove it. Then as directed I hold the syringe with the needle up and tap it so that all air moves to the top. At this point, I reinsert the syringe into my insulin vial and slowly push the air bubbles back into the vial. When there are no more air bubbles, I pull in enough insulin to measure my desired amount. If I see more air bubbles, I repeat the process. This eliminates the messy loss of insulin when shooting the bubbles out into the air.

I have not done a scientific test to determine whether it is the new case or the alternative method of filling the cartridge that is working for me. All I know is that with the combination of the two changes, I have not had a single occlusion alarm in 56 days.

Please note that the t:slider case is sold out according to the Tandem store although I wonder if the tech reps still have access to them. A new case to replace the t:clip case is in the works but I don’t know when it will be available.

Wishes:

One change I would like to see is the ability to customize the preset temporary basal setting. It always reverts to 50% now and 50% over 2 hours. That is a preset I never use and I override it every time. I would like the option to program my own preset or to at least show the last-used setting. This should just be a software change, so maybe it could be a future fix.

I anxiously await the software update to integrate my Dexcom G5 into the pump. Because it looks as though CMS will not allow the use of a smartphone with sensors purchased under Medicare (stupid for sure!!!), it would be nice to have my CGM as part of my pump even if I have to carry the Dex receiver also. I haven’t heard anything on when this update will be released.

My Favorite t:slim Hack:

I live in an older house and have few electrical outlets in convenient locations. Many people charge their t:slim pumps while showering. Our bathroom has only one outlet that is overused with hair dryers, a straightening iron, razors, and electric toothbrushes. I can sit near an outlet in the family room while watching TV, but then it is a PITA to unhook myself when I get up to do something. Charging in the car works fine when I remember to do it.

My newest solution is to use an Anker PowerCore back-up battery which I bought this winter for hiking. After owning it for a month or two, it dawned on me that I could use it to charge my pump! I keep a compatible cord attached to the Anker device and just plug in when needed. I can tuck the charger in my pocket or waistband and move about the house as needed. The charging is just as fast as from an outlet.

A great solution to a minor problem.

Conclusion:

I am satisfied that I chose a Tandem pump in late 2016 and think that I would make the same choice again. The only serious problem I have had with the pump is false occlusion alarms and that has mostly become a non-issue. The constant rumors about Tandem’s financial status are concerning, but my fingers are crossed that the company will overcome its problems and remain an innovative player in the diabetes tech world.

Winning the Battle with Tandem Occlusion Alarms

I began using the Tandem t:slim X2 in mid-December and wrote a product review in February. At that point I was frustrated with what I called #FakeNews occlusion alarms. I described the situation:

“I have used the Tandem t:slim X2 for almost 10 weeks. In that time I have had 9 occlusion alarms resulting in an immediate stoppage of insulin delivery. The first couple of times I panicked at the shrieking pump alarm fearing that something was actually wrong. Nope. Not once has there been a problem that did not disappear by working my way through the menu screens and pressing “Resume Insulin.” The vast majority of these alarms have been while delivering meal boluses, but not all.”

I mentioned that I had tried several recommendations from both Tandem reps and t:slim users on Facebook. Because I was using cartridges for more that the recommended 3 days, I began changing them more frequently. Instead of reducing the number of occlusion alarms, more frequent changes with less insulin in the cartridge resulted in more alarms. I tried carrying my pump in a Spibelt and then a Flipbelt as one D-friend recommended. I found the belts uncomfortable for everyday use and was quick to abandon them when I got an occlusion alarm wearing one.

A Tandem tech gave me a call and indicated that he is convinced that these occlusions happen because of temperature changes. He wanted me to start using a Tandem case to protect the pump from temperature changes when it was taken out of my pocket or Spibelt. He promised to send me a case without the clip so that I could carry the pump in my pocket. Meanwhile I started using the dreaded t:clip case which was bulky and ill-balanced and frequently fell off my waistband. I used the case for a week and hated it despite having no occlusion alarms. I took it off for a day hike and immediately had another lunchtime occlusion alarm.

Very quickly I reached the point that I was going to wear the pump the way I wanted to and occlusion alarms be damned. I wasn’t going to use an uncomfortable waist pack. I wasn’t going to use the t:clip case which ruined the elegant size and looks of the pump. I wasn’t going to change the cartridge every 3 days and waste a ton of time and insulin doing so.

Meanwhile I recalled that both Sarah “Sugabetic” and Kerri Sparling had written about a metal clip that could be attached directly to the pump. I reviewed their blogposts and ordered a Nite Ize Hip Clip from Amazon. I was a little spooked about attaching something directly to the pump, but went ahead anyway. For the first time I felt that I finally had a solution to carrying my X2 that would take it out of my pocket but keep the sleek lines of the pump intact.

I started using the Hip Clip on February 15 and made it 17 days before I had an alarm during a mealtime bolus. Although the pump was on my waistband, it looked as though the tubing was bent over on itself. Not exactly kinked but somewhat bent. I straightened the tubing and resumed insulin with no problems. As of today I have made it 32 days with only the one occlusion alarm.

Meanwhile I have not had to use the bulky Tandem case. I have not had to wear a Spibelt or Flipbelt except when I choose to at the gym. I have continued to use each cartridge well past the 3-day recommendation. (I change the infusion set every 2-3 days, just not the cartridge or tubing.) I have been happy wearing the pump on my waistband and been particularly happy that the pump retains it beauty and small size.

I am wearing and using the pump the way I want to wear it and the way I want to use it.

What has been my solution?

  1. I wear the pump with the Hip Clip clipped to my waistband most of the time. I try to make sure that there is no pressure on the tubing to cause it to bend near the pump and tubing connector.
  2. If I carry it in my pocket (which is easy to do because the clip is so small), I make sure that during boluses I keep the tubing near the pump and pigtail straight.

This solution seems to work for me, but will it work for others experiencing occlusion alarms? Are those of us experiencing the alarms having them for the same reason? I can share my profile: low average daily dose of insulin (<20 units), thin-average build, using manually-inserted Comfort Short infusion sets, carrying the pump in pocket with no case, using each cartridge for longer than 3 days. From Facebook discussions I don’t find a lot of overlap with my profile compared to others. I don’t even know what percentage of t:slim and X2 users experience occlusions because discussions about occlusions primarily attract users having the problem. Many Tandem pumpers report having no occlusion alarms. Some pumpers who report occlusion alarms believe that they are really having occlusions and have been helped by switching type of infusion sets. But that is not the case for many of us.

So for now I have learned to live with and mostly avoid occlusion alarms with my Tandem t:slim X2. IMO there is a flaw somewhere in the design of this pump system because I strongly believe that I should be able to carry my pump in my pocket without alarms. Tandem also thinks so because this screenshot of the t:slim X2 webpage shows a pumper pulling an uncased pump out of her pocket.

On March 8, 2017 Tandem announced that it will soon implement infusion sets and cartridges using a newly-designed tubing connector. The news release states:  “The new design reduces the time required to fill the infusion set tubing by approximately 30 seconds and reduces the amount of insulin used in the process by approximately four and a half units.” There is no mention that the t:lock Connector will reduce false occlusion alarms and it probably won’t, but a girl can always keep her fingers crossed….

In summary, I seem to have figured out how to avoid occlusion alarms on my Tandem pump. Maybe it is the tubing; maybe it is the temperature issue. Whatever. For the most part I’m just not thinking about it. And that’s a good thing.

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Please note that this post only reflects my personal experiences. Be sure to talk with a Tandem representative and read as many reviews as possible if you are in the market for a new pump.