This was one of the first things I saw when I opened my email this morning: the lead article in the latest edition of The Limbic – Subsidised CGM has not improved outcomes in Australian children with T1D’.

I’m relying on the The Limbic’s commentary as the study is not open access (I have requested a copy from one of the authors), and according to the report, the focus of the study was improvements in A1C and reductions in severe hypoglycaemia.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read anything I have written about technology or heard me give one of my many, many talks on user experience that I found this report problematic. Screaming that a well-funded and hard-fought for program, providing much needed diabetes technology to children (and adults) is ‘underwhelming’ does not sit well with me at all, especially when the main way the program’s success has been evaluated is a highly flawed clinical measurement.

When I look at the benefits I list when it comes to using any sort of diabetes tech – or other diabetes management, whether that be a drug, an education program or even peer support – changes to my A1C is far down on the list. I understand that for some people, this is certainly a measure of success, but it is not even close to one of the first things I would consider.

My history of using diabetes technology is long and elaborate. Perhaps one of the best examples of just why A1C gives a very incomplete picture of how I measure success is my initial foray into using an insulin pump. It was almost 20 years ago, and I was only three years into living with diabetes. That story is one that could be used as an example of ‘How NOT to do pump therapy’.

I was educated (and I use that term very loosely) by a rep from the pump company. She talked at me for three hours, pressed buttons, loaded some numbers into the device and then stepped out so a dietitian could teach me all I needed to know about carb counting. She was in the room for forty-five minutes. (For context, this was my introduction to carb counting, because my first dietitian encounters were only about low GI, with a general direction of ‘Eat as much as you want of it as long as it is low GI’).

I was released from the hospital with this new device strapped to me, step by step instructions for how to do a cannula change in three days’ time, and absolutely no idea what I was doing.

But here’s what happened: I could sleep in again. I didn’t need to eat unless I really wanted to; eating by the clock became a thing of the past! I could eat brunch out with friends again, without having already had breakfast at 7am. I ate more of the foods I wanted to and stopped stressing out each time I sat down for a meal. I felt more relaxed. My life felt just a little bit more mine, rather than dictated to my a most unwelcome health condition. And sleep! Did I mention sleeping in?

My A1C was the highest it ever was. By all clinical measures, I was absolutely messing this up. But by my measures – which were based on how I was feeling, how emotionally robust I was, how burnt out I felt, how late I could sleep in on the weekend (I see a theme) – I was ticking every single box.

My endocrinologist told me that I was wasting my money (and his time) being on a pump, and nothing I could do to explain that for the first time in three years I felt like myself. Sure, I knew that I had work to do on my A1C, but I finally felt emotionally resilient enough to do that. He just shook his head and sent me on my way…and was promptly sacked.

(Luckily for me, the story ends well because about eight months later, I came across a woman called Cheryl Steele. Suddenly I could use a pump properly. My A1C came down; my quality of life remained elevated.)

My story is not uncommon. I have spoken with dozens and dozens of people who have benefited from the CGM initiate and overwhelmingly, the stories I hear are people who are grateful for the tech for what it has offered them. Interestingly, we rarely talk about those measures that HCPs and researchers seem to think are the best way to gauge the success of any sort of intervention. They talk about those same things I mentioned earlier. When the CGM initiative was first launched, parents of kids with diabetes told me they had slept for more than three hours at a time at night for the first time in years. They told me how they stopped fearing hypoglycaemia so much, because they were being alerted if their kids glucose levels were trending downwards. They told me that their kids were having sleepovers and heading off to school camp for the first time.

A1C? Maybe we would mention that somewhere down the track, but that wasn’t what got us the most excited. That wasn’t the bit we spoke about when we uttered the words ‘life changing’.

Obviously, research is important. Data is essential. It was data that provided the strong case for Diabetes Australia, JDRF, ADS, ADEA and APEG to advocate for CGM funding as part of the NDSS. But the case that was put forward also included research that looked at QoL, because the organisations know that this matters.

Research that focuses on A1C is always going to be problematic in a health condition that will never only be about that number. It’s problematic for a number of reasons – not just because it gets my shackles up before I’ve had my morning coffee. We know the pot of money that goes to supporting and funding initiatives, such as the one in this study, is very limited. Funding authorities don’t have the nuanced understanding of all the different interventions that need funding, so if a study like this comes across their desk, it could raise red flags.

I am not for a moment saying that this sort of research should not be conducted or that negative results should be buried. What I am saying is that any results need to be flagged as only ever presenting part of the issue as a whole.

I am looking forward to reading the whole study – and truly, I’m hoping that this blustering post is all a waste of time because somewhere in there, I will get to see that the researchers spent a fair bit of effort evaluation QoL as well. I’m hoping that the trumpeting heading from The Limbic is nothing more than their typical sensationalism.

My fear, however, is that there won’t be more, and that once again, PWD will have been reduced to nothing more than a flawed metric that shows only one corner of the picture of our lives with diabetes.

I’ll finish with one final thought. I advocate for PWD’s involvement in every single step of diabetes research (not just as participants of studies), and one of the reasons I do that is because when we are at the table when studies are being first mapped out, we are given the chance to remind those conducting the work that the answers they are seeking are coming from people. Real people who will always be far more than their diabetes. And somehow, that needs to be reflected in the study they are doing. It can be done. Unfortunately, this seems to have missed the mark.