I have tested over a hundred digital health devices and gadgets over the past 8 years. And by far the most problematic of all these has been the FreeStyle Libre wireless wearable glucose sensor review. Don’t misunderstand me, the technology is brilliant, the sensor works flawlessly, but boy, regulatory hurdles were making it the toughest challenge. But let’s start at the beginning.
I am not diabetic but as a health-conscious person doing what I do (predicting the future of healthcare and medicine), I had been yearning to try continuous glucose monitoring for two reasons.
First, I wanted to go through the process to have first-hand experience with how these tools can help patients living with diabetes. Second, I was also interested to see if I can learn new insights regarding my lifestyle, especially my diet, and determine whether such tools can help a health-conscious person fine-tune their habits.
Getting the sensor – a Freestyle Libre – was easy. Making it work in a country that obviously isn’t a primary target market for the company producing the sensor was a nightmare.
These days such devices arrive without a dedicated reader. Logical, our phones can do everything the reader could, so why bother with a separate device? All you need is an app. And here is where my troubles started.
Unfortunately, for regulatory purposes, the app is not available in my country, Hungary, and even though I know the company’s C-suit, and reached out for the sake of the test, they couldn’t help me overcome this problem.
Of course, the diabetic community is one of the most clever and creative groups as they had to circumnavigate regulatory nightmares for a decade, so I received a few tips and tricks on how to hack the system. But it’s sort of insane that you have to become an IT guru or a hacker just to have access to a lifesaving technology like this.
I mean here’s a breakthrough consumer technology and just look at the walkthrough of what you have to do to be able to benefit from it in your disease management. The linked tutorial is in Hungarian, but you don’t need to speak the language to understand how complicated the process is. It can be done, sure, but compare it to just downloading the dedicated app to your phone and being done.
So at the end of the day, the local diabetes community helped me out, and for this test, I used an older sensor – a FreeStyle Libre 2 – that came with a separate reader and didn’t hit regulatory walls.
How to put it on?
Once the framework was settled, the process was a breeze. Setting up a sensor is very straightforward: you just clean/disinfect/dry your upper arm, click on the sensor applicator to the sensor, place it on your upper arm, push the button, and that’s it. Here is an introductory video, and I can confirm, it is as simple as that.
How does it feel?
It required some getting used to, I had a slight discomfort during the first day, which was gone soon. From then on I was able to completely forget about it and could sleep on it, I could exercise, and take showers/baths without any problems.
How does it work?
Once it’s in place, everything goes smoothly. The device alerts you if your blood sugar level is high. It allowed me to check my blood glucose levels however often I fancied, all I needed to do was to press the button (there is only one) on the reader, bring it close to the sensor and I had the reading in about 3 seconds. It worked through layers of clothing, I didn’t need to take off my jumpers.
How do you get the results?
After the two-week testing period I connected the reader to my PC, data got downloaded in a second and I was provided with a summary in two files, a pdf and an excel sheet.
What have I learned from this test?
This is a brilliant technology for diabetes management, which is obviously the primary use case. However, such a test period can be useful for people not living with the disease, especially, if your general practitioner is open to analysing the data with you.
I would certainly not suggest that healthy people should start using such devices permanently, continuous glucose monitoring should not be added to the list of metrics (like activity or sleep tracking) we need to measure from now on.
I got feedback that my lifestyle is all right – I was in the normal range for the full 14 days. Also, my previous hunch that blood glucose levels have an effect on my cognitive functions proved to be correct.
When I stuck to my 5-meals-a-day routine, the measurements were exemplary and I functioned at my best. When I skipped meals or consumed food I don’t regularly eat (especially food high in processed sugar), I felt less energetic, less sharp, and these subjective feelings correlated with the higher volatility of blood sugar levels in the readings.
Thus I got feedback that I should continue to avoid high-sugar food and take the trouble to keep a balanced meal routine.
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