People who have diabetes often must check their blood sugar by drawing a drop of blood from their finger and testing it with a glucose meter. The finger prick, several times a day and at night, has long been the most unpopular part of the test. Thankfully, it’s now easier to track and control glucose (blood sugar) levels with continuous glucose monitors (CGM).
A CGM device is a wearable technology that tracks how diet, medication, and exercise affect blood sugar levels over time. Medicare now covers CGM devices for insulin users and for people who have difficulty controlling hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
The tech enables those with diabetes to monitor their glucose levels throughout the day and night—if they keep their CGM connected. A simple glance will allow users to see current levels as well as trends throughout their day. That means users can better make informed decisions to keep their blood sugar in a safe range.
One of the best things about CGMs is that the tech is so easy to use and mostly does away with the discomfort and inconvenience of a finger prick. Instead, users keep a smartphone or reader nearby, which gives constant details about where their blood sugar is headed.
How Does a CGM Work?
While CGMs have been around since 1999, the improvements in accuracy, reliability and ease of use have made these wearable devices a game-changer in the management of diabetes. One doesn’t need to be a tech expert to operate and get the most from their CGM device, as it’s easy to set up and get running.
The CGM works through a tiny sensor inserted under the skin, most likely on the arm, stomach or even buttocks. Users tap an applicator to put the sensor in place. Then, every few minutes, the sensor will measure the interstitial glucose level, which is the glucose found in the fluid between body cells. It’s a substitute for tracking blood glucose, so a glucose meter may be needed as a backup. But most CGMs rarely need a finger prick to confirm results or adjust their medication.
A transmitter wirelessly sends CGM information to a monitor, which can be part of an insulin pump or a separate device such as a smartphone or tablet. From there, patients can share readings with their doctors and tweak their treatment plan.
Any skin irritation or allergic reactions caused by the device can be managed by using skin protection products or wearing the device elsewhere, so there’s less need to worry about side effects.
How Much Does a CGM Cost?
CGMs are costly without insurance. On average, a startup kit with replaceable sensors can begin around $1,000 and some CGMs cost several thousand dollars a year. Medicare does not cover CGMs for everyone, though. Most health plans do not fully cover out-of-pocket expenses, including the sensors that typically must be replaced every other week.
Cost holds back hundreds of thousands of people with diabetes who could benefit from CGM technology, especially those in underserved populations, and their doctors may not even recommend them. With training and online or phone support, members can make sense of CGM readings and work with their doctors to plan treatment around meals and activities.
CGMs make sense for anyone with diabetes who is having a hard time getting their blood sugar or A1C level under control, and also for those who may not have or recognize symptoms of low blood sugar. By adjusting insulin or food intake, CGM users can respond early and prevent life-threatening complications of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and manage their diabetes treatment throughout the day.