Diabetes Testing

Meter Reports

Whenever Consumer Reports evaluates blood glucose meters, it’s big news. Three people already emailed me to ask what I think about the magazine’s review. And on Thursday I just got my copy of the September 2008 issue in which the review appears.

With a monthly circulation of about 4 million copies, what Consumer Reports writes about meters matters. This is one of the dozen biggest magazines in the country and the only one that prides itself on its editorial independence in accepting no advertising. And I’m not aware of any other general interest publication that regularly rates our meters.

Its new review rated 13 meters from eight different manufacturers. This is the same number of meters as it rated in its previous review for its August 2005 issue. But the meter market has changed so much in the past three years that almost all of the meters rated in the new review are different.
These numbers of models and manufacturers are important, because that’s a small proportion of the number of meter models. My comprehensive directory of blood glucose meters, part 14 of “On-line Diabetes Resources,” describes and links almost 100 current blood glucose meters from 34 manufacturers.

Consumer Reports did review at least two meters from the four manufacturers that dominate this market. It evaluated three OneTouch meters from LifeScan, two Accu-Chek meters from Roche, two FreeStyle meters from Abbott, and two Bayer meters (formerly called Ascensia meters). For good measure it included Wal-Mart’s inexpensive ReliOn, Nova Biomedical’s Nova Max, GenExel-Sein’s Duo-Care (a combined meter and blood pressure monitor), and an unspecified TrueTrack meter manufactured by Home Diagnostics.

I would have been much happier with the article if they had been able to include one or more WaveSense Meters from AgaMatrix. The technology of this smaller meter manufacturer seems to be superior in consistency and accuracy.

The magazine also missed the main value meter. US Diagnostics sells the Maxima meter, which uses the least expensive test strips currently available.

Nor did it include the most advanced meter design. Bionime offers the Rightest GM100, which looks and works beautifully, but if Consumer Reports ever heard it, they don’t say.

Still, what disturbs me even more is what they don’t tell us about how they went about testing the meters. Most people probably think that Consumer Reports does all their testing in-house. But every time I run across one of the magazine’s reports on a class of products that I know something about, I not only have serious reservations about their results but also find that the fine print says they farmed out the tested. Worse, they don’t say what company did the testing.

This meter report is no exception. All they say about their testing of accuracy and consistency is that they “contracted with an outside laboratory.”

More reliable, I think, is the way they went about testing how easy or difficult the meters were to use. For this they used “lay and expert panelists with diabetes.”

More interesting, I think, is the meter model that the magazine rated excellent in consistency and accuracy. It’s LifeScan’s OneTouch UltraMini. The biggest surprise for me is that this inexpensive meter rates higher on consistency and accuracy than the two other LifeScan meters, the OneTouch Ultra2 and the OneTouch UltraSmart, that the article evaluated. All of these meters use the same test strips and technology.

The UltraMini looks like a great value, because the “approximate retail” price of $20 is a lot less than the $70 or $85 that LifeScan wants for the other two meters in this evaluation. Only two other meters that Consumer Reports looked at, the ReliOn and the TrueTrack, retail for less than the UltraMini.

But here comes the most interesting and valuable part of the article — the approximate retail price for each blood glucose test strip. Most expensive are the strips for the FreeStyle meters, $1.30 each. Then come the OneTouch strips at $1.14 with the Accu-Chek and Bayer (formerly Ascensia) strips close behind at $1.10 each.

Behind these “big four” meter makers, strips for smaller companies sell for less — as little as $0.44 each for the ReliOn. That, however, is still 39 percent more than you would have to pay for a Maxima test strip.

Consumer Reports rated four meters excellent in ease of use and features. They are Bayer’s Contour, LifeScan’s OneTouch Ultra2 and OneTouch UltraSmart and Roche’s Accu-Chek Aviva. The article offers no detail on how they arrived at this conclusion, which was not an easy call, considering that ease of use doesn’t play well with a feature-rich meter.

All told, should you run out and buy a OneTouch UltraMini? On the strength of this Consumer Reports review, such as it is, I don’t think so. But if you like the small size of this meter and its attractive choice of colors and if your insurance rather than you gets stuck with its expensive strip price, you could do worse.

And depending on what you are looking for in a meter, you probably could do better.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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