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There are days working in diabetes advocacy that are pretty special and today is one of those days. 

Because from today, all Australians with type 1 diabetes are eligible for subsidised CGM products. That means, all 130,000 Aussies with type 1 can access affordable CGM and Flash GM in the same way as all other diabetes supplies.  

It’s July 1 and kick off is today, so there are likely to be some hiccoughs. And it’s going to take some time for everyone involved – from those of us with diabetes, our HCPs and pharmacies, plus anyone else – to become fluent in it all. 

All the information is on the NDSS website, and I know it seems that there is heaps of detail (there is), but it’s worth taking the time to work out which group you are in and understand the process that will be required for you to access subsidised CGM.

I know that there are some people who are a little (a lot) annoyed that one of the regulations that has been put in place. Some people who are new to the NDSS CGM scheme won’t need to see a HCP before being eligible to access subsidised supplies. The rules to be in that group are as follow:

  • Must be already using CGM or Flash GM
  • Must have ordered CGM or Flash products from the supplier between 1 January 2022 and 1 June 2022

If this is you, there is an easy form to fill in, requiring just a few details including the product you intend to use so that the NDSS can validate that you have indeed ordered within the required timeframe. If you’ve ordered outside that timeframe, you’ll need to have your eligibility form completed by a HCP.  

These rules will mean that some people with diabetes who have been using CGM for some time, but have not placed an order with a supplier between 1 Jan and 1 June, will not be fast-tracked, and will need to wait until they next see their HCP to fill in the required form (or have their HCP fill it in online before their next appointment).

I’m in that situation. Despite having used CGM for over 10 years (long before most diabetes HCPs even knew what CGM was!), I will still need to see a HCP to have my form filled in. I’ve been using expired G5 sensors or G6 sensors donated or purchased from pharmacies or others with diabetes for the last couple of years. I did place an order recently to take advantage of a super cheap offer that had been made to lure users, but that was after 1 June. 

While frustrating (and I know a lot of people who have found themselves in the same situation), I do understand why it’s necessary. I have heard of dozens and dozens of people who have never used CGM or Flash, who jumped in to get the super cheap introductory offer AMSL were offering for Dexcom G6, and others who ordered a free Libre sensor. 

Sure, we can argue that people with diabetes are able to work out how to use tech without HCP instruction, and that probably the case for most people. But there are some people who might find it difficult and that might mean they are not able to get the best out of the device. There is no point using any sort of diabetes technology if it’s not being used properly and I say that as someone who used a pump for the first three years without decent training and education and, because there were so few pumpers around at the time, no peer learning opportunities back then. I was self-funding in 2001 when I started, paying around $300 a month and getting absolutely nothing of value out of it. What a waste of money. 

The NDSS is a taxpayer funded initiative and I guess, as a taxpayer, it’s reasonable to want to know that those accessing it are benefiting from it as much as possible. 

If we can look beyond the initial teething issues that are inevitable and step back to look at the big picture, Australia’s entry into the #CGMForAll people with type 1 diabetes is incredible and stands up when compared with what is available elsewhere in the world. 

There criteria is pretty broad meaning that absolutely no one with type 1 diabetes should miss out. And while initial forms need to be completed by a HCP for many, there isn’t an assessment process that becomes a barrier to access. I have friends with diabetes in other parts of the world where in writing there appears to be #CGMforAll, but the reality is that HCPs wield a lot of power before that becomes a reality. The hoop jumping here in Australia is relatively minor (even with the matter mentioned earlier in this post).

I certainly think that within a few months everyone who wants to access CGM through the NDSS will have been able to. And in a couple of years’ time, subsidised CGM access will just be part of what we get here in Australia, and will be expected. I suspect, however, that the ten plus years of advocacy I’ve been involved in won’t be forgotten. This win has been hard fought. But jeez was it worth it!

DISCLOSURE

I work for Diabetes Australia who administers the NDSS on behalf of the Australian Government. I do not work in the NDSS team. My access to the NDSS CGM initiative is the same as for every other person with type 1 diabetes in Australia – I’ll be seeing my endocrinologist at the end of July to get her to complete the relevant form so I can access subsidised product. 

What were you doing 15 years or so ago? I can’t tell you what I was doing at exactly this moment back then, but I can tell you that it is when I started working on getting CGM access for all Australians with type 1 diabetes. Back then, CGM was relatively new here. It was only used by people with type 1 diabetes and, just as now, the out-of-pocket expenses were significant. But, we knew that there was emerging evidence to show that this tech was life-changing, and we knew that there was no time like right then to start discussions about what a funding scheme would look like. 

When I talk about the slow burn of diabetes advocacy, this is what I mean. We’ve had wins along the way, but until this morning, it’s understandable that a lot of adults with type 1 diabetes felt quite forgotten with the subsidies that were available.  

But today we’re celebrating. In a big way. We started working on the announcement yesterday when we heard that there would be an announcement today – #CGM4All was moving from just being a hashtag to a reality if the Coalition was returned to government. Within hours of this morning’s announcement, the ALP said they would match that promise. 

Isn’t bipartisanship a beautiful word?

Breaking it down, what does this mean? It means that nothing changes for people who already have access to fully-subsidised CGM and Flash GM through the NDSS CGM Initiative. For those of us who have missed out up until now, the Initiative will be expanded; we will have access to the scheme, and there will be a co-pay. Details are sketchy around that, but the announcement is that the maximum out-of-pocket expense will be $32.50 per month. Right now, those on a subscription for Dexcom G6 would be paying $330 per month. 

So, this is a lot less!

By the way, we’ve been here before. Back in 2016, we had bipartisan support for introducing CGM funding. At the time, the ALP promised funding for all people with type 1 diabetes who met the criteria which was firmly based on clinical need. The Coalition’s promise was for kids, which is exactly what happened when the first iteration of the NDSS GCM initiative became a reality in April 2017. There have been further expansions – for people with diabetes planning for pregnancy and while pregnant, and for those holding a healthcare card. But not for everyone

Back to those first meetings fifteen years ago – this was the dream. #CGM4All. 

With my Diabetes Australia hat on, I can say I am incredibly proud of our advocacy work. I look to the dedicated people who I’ve sat in meeting after meeting after meeting with, modelling different scenarios, workshopping proposals, celebrating the wins, and commiserating the frustrations. 

And with my person with diabetes hat on, I can say that alongside the tears of joy I shed this morning when the bipartisan support was announced, there was relief and gratitude. 

#CGM4All people with type 1 diabetes.  Oh, happy day!

Comment: there are definitely others with diabetes who benefit from CGM technologies. I’m not done until access is equitable. Today I’m celebrating. But then…then it‘s back on the advocacy trail looking at how to support other cohorts. 

Disclosure

I am the Head of Communities and International Affairs at Diabetes Australia. 

I frequently say that these days, I do hardly anything when it comes to diabetes. I credit the technology behind LOOP for making the last four-and-a-half years of diabetes a lot less labour intensive and emotionally draining than the nineteen-and-a-half years that came before. 

It’s true. Justin Walker’s assessment that his DIYAPS has given him back an hour a day rings true. (He said that in a presentation at Diabetes Mine’s DData back in 2018.)

The risk that comes with speaking about the benefits of amazing newer tech or drugs is that we, unintentionally, start to minimise what we still must do. I think in our eagerness to talk about how much better things are – and they often are markedly better – we lose the thread of the work we still put in. But our personal stories are just that, and we should speak about our experiences and the direct effect tech has in a way that feels authentic and true to us.

And that’s why accuracy in reporting beyond those personal accounts is important. Critical even. 

Yesterday, the inimitable Jacq Allen (if you are not following her on Twitter, please start now), tweeted a fabulous thread about the importance of getting terminology right when reporting diabetes tech. 

She was referring to a tweet sharing a BBC news article which repeatedly labelled a hybrid-closed loop system as an ‘artificial pancreas’. Jacq eloquently pointed out that the label was incorrect, and that even with this technology, the wearer still is required to put in a significant amount of work. She said: ‘…Calling it an ‘artificial pancreas’ makes it sound like a cure, like a plug and play, it makes diabetes sound easy, and while this makes diabetes less dangerous for me, adopting a term that makes it sound like it can magically emulate a WHOLE ORGAN is disingenuous and minimises the amount of time and effort it still takes to keep yourself well and safe.’ 

Jacq’s right. And after reading her thread, I started to think about the time and effort I had dedicated to diabetes over the previous week. 

This weekend, I spent time dealing with all the different components of Loop. For some reason my Dexcom was being a shit and all of a sudden decided to throw out the ‘signal loss’ alert. After doing all the trouble shooting things, I ended up deleting the app and reinstalling it, which necessitated having to pair the transmitter with the app. This happened twice. I also decided it would be a good time to recharge my Fenix (Dexcom G5 transmitter) and reset it. 

I ran out of insulin while at a family lunch, necessitating some pretty nifty calculations about how much IOB was floating around, and what that meant in terms of what I could eat from the table laden with an incredible spread of Italian food. 

Saturday night, Aaron surprised me with tickets to the Melbourne Theatre Company and in our usual shambolic fashion, we were running late, which meant a little jog (don’t laugh) from the car park to the theatre. I was in high-heeled boots and a skirt that scraped the ground. The degree of difficulty WITHOUT diabetes was high. As I less-than-daintily plunked myself in my seat, I looked at my CGM trace, trying to decide if the 5.5mmol/l with a straight arrow was perfect or perilous, and did a bit of advanced calculus to work out if the audience would be serenaded by the Dexcom alarm at some point in during the 90-minute performance. I snuck in a couple of fruit pastilles under my mask, and surreptitiously glanced down at my watch every ten minutes or so to see if further action was needed. It was. Because that straight arrow turned into double arrows up towards the end of the play.

I spent two hours out of my day off last week for a HCP appointment, as well as several hours dispersed throughout the week trying to work out if there would be any way at all that I might be able to access a fourth COVID boosted prior to flying to Barcelona at the end of the month. 

And that doesn’t include the time spent on daily calibrations required because I’m still using up G5 sensors, the pump lines that need replacing every three days (and checked on other days), reservoirs that need refilling (when I remember…) and batteries that need replacing. Or the time set allocated to daily games of ‘Where is my Orange Link’. And the brain power needed to guess calculate carbs in whatever I am eating. (And you bet there are clever people who no longer need to ‘announce’ carbs on the systems they’re using, but the other tasks still have to happen.) It doesn’t include the time out I had to take for a couple of so-called mild hypos that still necessitated time and effort to manage. 

Short of a cure, the holy grail for me in diabetes is each and every incremental step we take that means diabetes intrudes less in my life. I will acknowledge with gratitude and amazement and relief at how much less disturbance and interruption there is today, thanks to LOOP, but it would be misleading for me to say that diabetes doesn’t still interfere and take time. 

Plus, I’ve not even started to mention the emotional labour involved in living with diabetes. It is constant, it is more intense some days. There are moments of deep and dark despair that terrify me. It is exhausting, and no amount of tech has eliminated it for me. 

The risk we face when there is exaggeration about the functionality and cleverness of diabetes tech is that those not directly affected by diabetes start to think that it’s easy. In the same way that insulin is not a cure, diabetes tech is not a panacea. Setting aside the critical issue about access, availability, and affordability, even those of us who are privileged to be able to use what we need, still probably find a significant burden placed on us by diabetes. 

This isn’t new. Back in 2015 when Australia was the launch market for Medtronic’s 640G, it was touted as an artificial pancreas, and I wrote about how troubling it was. I stand by what I wrote then:

‘Whilst this technology is a step in the right direction, it is not an artificial pancreas. It is not the holy grail.

Diabetes still needs attention, still needs research, still needs funding, still needs donations. We are not there yet, and any report that even suggests that is, I believe, detrimental to continued efforts looking to further improve diabetes management.

All of us who are communicating in any way about diabetes have a responsibility to be truthful, honest and, as much as possible, devoid of sensationalism.’

It’s why I frequently plead that anyone who refers to CGM or Flash GM as ‘non-invasive’ stops and stops now. There is nothing non-invasive about a sensor being permanently under my skin and being placed there by a large introducer needle. Tech advances may mean we don’t see those needles anymore, and we may even feel them less, but they are still there!

We still need further advancements. We still need research dollars. We still need politicians to fight for policy reform to ensure access is easy and fast and broad. We still need healthcare professionals to understand the failings of technology, so they don’t think that we are failing when we don’t reach arbitrary targets.

We still need the public to understand how serious diabetes is and that even with the cool tech, we need warm hands to help us through. We still need the media to report accurately. And we still need whoever is writing media releases to be honest in their assessments of just what it is they are writing about.  

Keep it real. That’s all I am asking. Because overstating diabetes technology understates the efforts of people with diabetes. And that is never, ever a good thing. 

Amazing. But not an artificial pancreas.

The very first time I ever saw or heard anyone speaking of an insulin pump was about 14 months after I was diagnosed. It was National Diabetes Week in July 1999, and I attended an event organised by Reality Check, and supported by Diabetes Vic. Reality Check was a support group of young adults with type 1 diabetes. I don’t remember much from the program at the event, but I do remember a woman called Cheryl Steele. Cheryl was living with type 1 diabetes, and she was sharing her story of using an insulin pump and how it had completely revolutionised her type 1 diabetes management. Three moments from Cheryl’s talk stood out for me: the first was that she was able to be more flexible with what she was eating, the second was that a pump gave her more flexibility with being able to sleep in. And the third was that she loved her pump so much that she threatened to cut the arms off anyone who tried to take it away from her. 

The first time I heard about CGM was years before we had the devices here in Australia. I read about them in online blogs and in support groups led by PWD in the US. I read stories about how this technology was changing the way the managed their diabetes in ways I could only imagine. I heard about Libre for the first time a number of years later when I met Claudio Pelizzeni at EASD, and he shared his experience of using the device as he travelled the world (without taking planes).     

The first time I heard about DIYAPS was at an informal lunch thrown by Medtronic (I think) in 2015 (I think) in Boston (I think). I’m sketchy about the details, but I do remember with great clarity that at the other end of the table was a woman called Dana Lewis who I had seen online and read about, and knew to be amazing, but not yet met in person. She was talking about…well, to be honest, at the time I had no idea what she was talking about. All I could see and understand was that she was doing something that sounded like science fiction. She had a number of devices linked together and there was something totally magical happening.

The first time I heard about Loop (the DIYAPS I went on to use) was on a rainy New York night in January 2017 at a pub in the financial district. I was having a drink with a friend and just as he was taking the first mouthful of his stout he said, ‘Hang on, I need to bolus’, and he pulled his phone from his pocket and pressed some buttons. ‘What the what?’ I asked and he proceeded to explain Loop, how it worked, how he’d woken at between 80 and 100 (4 & 5) every single morning for the three months he’d been using it, and how he was sleeping better than he ever had.

When it comes to technology, it has always been up to me to first raise discussions about different devices or options. After seeing Cheryl talking about her pump, I asked my endocrinologist about getting one and his opening line (and closing line, as it turned out) was ‘They kill people; I’ll never allow one of my patients to use one’. That was the last time I saw him, and I went on the hunt to find an endocrinologist who would support my choice. I started on CGM because I enrolled myself in a trial. I was given my first Libre at a blogger event. I cobbled together my DIYAPS after sourcing what I needed. As brilliant as my HCP team is, they have not been especially proactive about suggesting, or even introducing the idea of, different diabetes technologies. It’s been learning through others with diabetes that has set me on that road. 

When I talk about what peer support means to me, it goes beyond moral support and shared experience. It has been the driving force behind much of the way I choose to manage my diabetes. It has been the impetus for investigating if something new might be right for me. It has paved the way for me to start conversations with healthcare professionals to make access happen. 

Peer support is absolutely essential for the mutual understanding and the tips and tricks for making day-to-day diabetes easier. And I’ve always said that hearing others’ stories help make sense of my own. But it is about much, much more. I’ve detailed the ‘first times’ when it comes to tech, but there have been so many more moments – moments that have helped make that tech work for me in ways I’d not thought, and certainly not had discussed with me by HCPs. 

When I speak with newly diagnosed PWD I ask if they know others. I gently suggest that it may be a good thing to think about – not necessarily straight away, but certainly at some point. I can never repay the debt of gratitude I have for people who steered me in the direction to the tools that make my diabetes life that little bit easier, but I can do all I can to give back and try to do that every day.

There are two boxes on my desk today because I am recording a little video for a new series at work. In my diabetes store cupboard, there are lots of boxes from currently using and past diabetes devices and products. 

These boxes all contain promises and hope – promises to make diabetes easier and the hope that some of the significant time dedicated to something that no one really wants to dedicate time to is gained back.

Burden is very personal. One person’s significant diabetes burden is another’s mild inconvenience. Some look at a CGM and see life changing and lifesaving technology and others see a nagging device of torture. I vacillate between the two trains of thought. 

No diabetes device is perfect and does all things. Most rarely even do what they promise on the box. 

And yet when we look online often all we see is the perfect stuff. With diabetes tech companies getting smart and becoming all social media savvy, they have looked to the community to see how we communicate and share. It’s not a silly thing to do. Many of the decisions I’ve made about diabetes tech choices have been based on what my peers have to say. But I’m selective about who I search for when looking for those personal experiences and testimonials. I look either for people I kind of know, or people who have a history of being open and honest and real about their experience.

I’d make a lousy ambassador, even though I am asked almost daily to either become an ambassador for a company or promote their product, with lots of free stuff thrown in. Some offer payments. Sometimes I agree to try something, but there are never any strings attached, and while I will accept the product, I will never be paid for using it, or for writing about it. (You can see that in my disclaimers when talking about product. I always say that I’m sharing because I want, not because it’s part of the arrangement for me to use gifted or discounted product. I’ve never done that.) That’s not to say that I have not had arrangements with different companies and been paid an honorarium for my time and expertise, but that is always in the capacity of being an advisor, or consultant. 

I’m too honest about the challenges of different diabetes technologies – you bet I love Dtech, but not everything about all of it! It’s why I am always wary of anyone spruiking any diabetes product who has only positive things to say. In the last 20 years, I’ve used or tried pumps from Medtronic, Cozmo, Animas, Roche and Ypsomed. I have loved them all. And hated them all. I’ve never had only good things to say about any of them – even the Cozmo which remains my favourite ever pump, and anytime I see one, I have strong happy feelings of nostalgia…but despite that, it still had its failings that I spoke about often when I used it. 

I’ve used CGM products from Medtronic, Dexcom and Libre and had few good things to say about some generations, better things to say about others, but never loved every single aspect of any of them. Because there is always something that isn’t perfect, or even almost perfect. 

And finally, I’ve used countless blood glucose monitors from every brand in Australia and some I’ve picked up on travels, and it’s the same deal: love some things, drop the f bomb about others. 

The times I have been gifted products, I have always been honest when talking about them, highlighting the pros and cons. Even though I always write about the positives and negatives, I’ve always urged people to read or listen to whatever I have to say understanding that there is a lens of bias with which I see them through. Of course there is, and others should consider that. I also know I have never consented to having anything I’ve said or written reviewed or amended by the company who has kindly gifted product, or have I promised to do a certain number of posts or tweets or Insta pics about them. The sharing I do is always on my terms as are the words in those shares.  

I have, however seen many contracts these days that are very prescriptive when it comes to the expectations and commitments of the people being given product. I don’t have an issue with that; I couldn’t care less really. But I don’t think that simply putting the words #Ad on a post gives people the true picture behind the arrangement in place, which is important for the reader if they are to consider just what bias could be at play when reading someone’s opinions.

I am always pleased when I see that industry is engaging with PWD. There should be clear lines of communication, and hearing what PWD say is critical – far more so, in my mind, than what the shiny brochures have to say. But just as I read what the company’s PR messaging has to say with some scepticism, I do the same when I am not clear of the pact between the company and the PWD. 

Diabetes devices rarely, in fact, I’d go so far as to say NEVER, do all that they promise on the box. I think I’ve known that all along, but it wasn’t until I started using something that doesn’t come boxed up in sparkly, fancy packaging that I truly realised just how much that wasn’t true. 

Those promises to do less diabetes – to reduce that burden – was only ever true to a small degree. And sometimes, there was added burden that you could only truly learn about if you knew where and how to access others with diabetes, in particular those that didn’t sound as though they were simply regurgitating what the brochures said. 

Using an out of the box diabetes tech solution isn’t all perfect. There are somethings about DIYAPS that annoy me. A red loop on my Loop app can be frustrating – even if it’s a simple fix. Needing to carry around an OrangeLink and making sure it’s in range gets irritating. Not having a dedicated 1800 number that I can call 24/7 and handing over any concerns to someone else means that the troubleshooting burden falls squarely on my shoulders – even if there is a community out there to help me through. 

And yet, even with all that, it is the first time ever that I have been able to say that I do less diabetes. How much less? Well, I think that Justin Walker’s assessment from a presentation at Diabetes Mine’s DData event back in 2018 is right. He said that using a DIYAPS has given him back an hour a day where he no longer needs to think about diabetes

Last week, I hit four years of Looping.  That’s 1,460 hours I’ve clawed back. Or over 60 days. If DIYAPS came in a box (and with a PR machine and marketing materials) and it promised me that, I wouldn’t believe it based on previous experience. But I guess that’s the thing. There is no box, there is no marketing juggernaut. It’s just the stories of people with diabetes who have worked through this and worked it out for themselves. 

An out of the box marketing solution for an out of the box diabetes technology solution. I’ve never trusted anything more. 

More on this:

Advertising in Diabetes

Often when we talk or read about technology it is very much about the latest, newest, shiniest devices. And yes, I wrote about those last week. There’s nothing wrong with learning about latest tech releases, or desperately wanting to get your hands on them. 

But the devices are only ever half the story. And that’s why it was so great to see that in amongst all the data and the new things, was a presentation that reminded everyone watching the technology symposium at ADC that the data belongs to people and the devices are worn on the bodies of those people. 

This is the whole warm hands, cool tech concept that is often missing when we hear about technology. The devices are not inanimate, they need human interaction to make them work for … well … for humans.

I despair at some of the stories we hear about technology and people with diabetes. Some talk experiences that have left them feeling like a failure when the tech has simply not been right for them. Because that is the way it is posed. If we decide the tech doesn’t suit us, hasn’t worked for us, hasn’t helped us achieve our goals, we’ve failed it

The truth is, it’s more likely that the failure – if we need to frame it that way – is not the PWD at all. It’s more likely that the tech is not right for the person, and there wasn’t enough assistance to help navigate through to choose the right tech. Or the education was insufficient, or not tailored for the PWD, or not interesting, or not relevant (more on that soon, from Dr Bill Polonsky’s opening plenary from the conference). It is possible that the timing wasn’t right, the circumstances were not optimal, not enough conversations about cost or effort required … whatever it is, none of the blame for something not being right should be placed on the PWD.

When we look at diabetes education, or engagement with healthcare professionals, the stories that are celebrations or considered successes (from the perspective of the PWD and, hopefully, the HCP) show the right recipe. The ingredients will all be different, but the method seems to be the same: the person with diabetes is listened too, time is taken to understand what is important for them, the PWD’s priorities are clear, and goals are realistic and checked along the way. The end results are not necessarily based on numbers or data points, but rather, just how well the person with diabetes is feeling about their diabetes, and if anything new has added to their daily burden. Reviews are focused on successes more than anything else. 

My favourite ever diabetes educator, Cheryl Steele, gave an outstanding presentation on how HCPs can best work with people with diabetes to ensure we get the most from our technology. 

I spoke with Cheryl after her talk (you can watch the video of our chat for Diabetes Australia at the end of today’s post), and she laughingly said that she could have said the most important things she wanted to say in 2 minutes, and with one slide that basically just said that HCPs need to be truly person-centred and listen to PWD.

But thankfully, she spoke a lot more than that and covered a number of different topics. But the thing that got to me – and the thing that I hope the predominantly HCP audience would take home and remember – was Chery urging her colleagues to focus on the positives. 

Cheryl said, ‘The emphasis has to be on what you’re doing well’ and I feel that is a wonderful place to start and end healthcare consultations. I think about experiences where that has happened to me. Such as the time I went to my ophthalmologist after a few years of missing appointments and his reaction to seeing me was not to tell me off for not showing up previously, but instead to welcome me and say it was great I was there. I’ve never missed an appointment since. 

How many PWD reading this have stories to share of times when they went into an appointment with data and all that was focused on was the out-of-range numbers? There are countless stories in online diabetes groups where HCPs have concentrated on the 10% out of range numbers rather than the 90% in range. Actually, even if only 10% of numbers were in range, that is 10% that are bang where they need to be!

Perhaps that’s what’s missing from diabetes appointments. Gold stars and elephant stamps!

There is something devastating about walking into an appointment and the first, and sometimes only, thing that is on the HCPs radar is numbers that are below or above the PWD’s target glucose range. I’ve sat in those appointments. I know the feeling of walking in and feeling that I’m tracking okay, only to have none of the hard work I’ve managed acknowledged and instead, only the difficulties addressed. 

But then, I think about one of the first experiences with the endocrinologist I have been seeing for twenty years. Without judgement, she acknowledged that I wasn’t checking my glucose much, and asked if I felt that I could start to do one check every Wednesday morning when I woke up. I said that it seemed like such a pathetic goal to set, but she gently said, ‘One is more than none’. The focus was not on what I wasn’t achieving. It was on what I could.

What a wonderful motivator that is. 

Disclosures

Thanks to the Australian Diabetes Society and Australian Diabetes Educators Association, organisers of the Australasian Diabetes Congress for complimentary registration to attend the conference. This gave me access to all the sessions.

I work for Diabetes Australia and the video shared is part of the organisations Facebook Live series. I am sharing here because is relevant to this post, not because I have been asked to.

As usual, no one has reviewed this piece before I hit publish (which is unfortunate because I could really do with an editor).

This week, I’ve been at the Australasian Diabetes Congress. By ‘at’ I mean ‘sitting in my home office in lockdown, watching sessions on my MacBook’, because that is what ‘at a conference’ means in the time of COVID.

Today is the final day, and I spent a couple of hours in the technology session, listening to news about the latest and greatest in diabetes technologies, as well as the best way to work with people with diabetes who are using these technologies. I’ll be writing about the latter next week. 

Today is all about shiny new stuff!

Big tech news from the Congress was the announcement from Insulet Australia that Omnipod DASH will be available this month, which is fabulous because it means that there is another choice added to the pump market for Aussies with diabetes – and a tubeless pump at that!

The not-so-great news is that Insulet has been unable to successfully negotiate a reimbursement model with the Department of Health. Pumps in Australia are generally covered through private health insurance, and pump consumables subsidised through the NDSS. 

This has worked perfectly well to date because pump products have been easily divided into devices (the actual pump) and consumables (infusion sets and reservoirs/cartridges). The Omnipod system is different – it comprises a tubeless pod which is, essentially the pump and consumables. The pod is worn for three days before being discarded. There is a touchscreen ‘personal diabetes manager’ which is used to drive the device. This system simply doesn’t easily slide into the funding model that has worked for the last thirty odd years. 

The latest notice from Insulet Australia is that they will now have to go through another submission process, and that will take a further 8 – 12 months. There is no guarantee of reimbursement at the end of this process, but Insulet – and Aussie PWD – are hopeful there will be good news.

Frustratingly, this means that anyone who decides that they really want an Omnipod and want it now needs to purchase it out of pocket, with no subsidy scheme on offer. The price that was announced at the Congress is AUD$400 for a one-month supply. There will be discounts for two- or three-month orders.

In other new tech news, Abbot’s new flash glucose monitor, Libre 2, is very much now available in Australia, and the positive here is that it is already listed on the NDSS for those eligible for the CGM Initiative. Those of us who need to pay out of pocket, the price is the same as for the first-generation Libre. It’s a small win.

Libre 2 has been out and about in Europe for some time now (and Libre 3 is out in limited release in some markets), and has recently received approval for use in the US. 

The main difference with Libre 2 is that it alarms when glucose levels are out of range. The wearer will still need to scan over the sensor (either with a mobile phone or reader device0 to see the actual reading, but they will have been alerted to any numbers that are either too high or too low. The great thing is that the alarms are optional, which is great for PWD who prefer their diabetes to be silent. 

It’s been described as an evolution rather than a revolution, which is not a negative. We don’t necessarily need every new generation to be a complete and utter overhaul with all new bells and whistles, but it’s always great to see improvements – especially when they are improvements PWD have recommended! I haven’t tried the Libre 2 yet, but will be doing so in the next week or so. 

You can find more information about these two new technologies by clicking on the images below. 

Omnipod (there is currently very limited information on the site, however that should change in coming weeks.)

Libre 2

Disclosures

Thanks to the Australian Diabetes Society and Australian Diabetes Educators Association, organisers of the Australasian Diabetes Congress for complimentary registration to attend the conference. This gave me access to all the sessions.

I hosted the Australian launch of the Omnipod DASH for diabetes advocates back in May this year, and was paid an honoraria for my time. 

Abbott Diabetes Australia has provided me with a Libre 2 sensor to use.

All words here are mine and I have not been asked or paid to write anything you’ve just read. 

What’s the holy grail when it comes to diabetes technology? I suspect the answer may change depending on who you ask. Different people with diabetes, different ideas of burden, different priorities. But one thing that seems to be quite universal is that people with diabetes want to do less when it comes to their diabetes, and they want tech to help with that. 

Each and every week, I get asked to review or promote new apps, devices and other types of technology. Or I am asked if I can provide some feedback on an idea which has the aim of improving the life of people with diabetes. 

When time permits, I’ll spend some time with developers, and I always start by asking ‘What’s your point of difference?’. I want to know that because there’s so much out there already, and if it’s just another app or program to add to the noise, why bother? 

The point of difference I am always searching for is the bit that means doing less. Anything that requires more input or thought process than what is currently available, without offering benefit elsewhere seems to be a waste of time. 

I want to do less for more. Surely that’s not asking too much… 

For me these days, if I want to check my glucose level, I glance down at my watch. I don’t need to do anything more. Or I swipe right on my iPhone to see a little extra: the header of my Loop app (which shows current glucose level, predicted graph, IOB and battery volume). 

To bolus, I either open the Loop app on my phone (two taps after waking my phone), or on my watch and go from there (one tap after waking my watch). 

It takes very little effort. I don’t in any way have to stop what I am doing. And it is super inconspicuous. No one knows what I’m doing – not that I’d care. But it’s nice not to have to do something that often draws attention, or questions from others.

I have often wondered if I’ll try a Tandem t:slim pump once Control IQ is finally launched into Australia, and the one thing that is stopping me is knowing that I’d have to give up bolusing from my phone or watch. 

New devices or technologies that demand more seem to be in direct contrast to PWD demanding to do less. I wrote this piece after a conference presentation about the (first gen) Medtronic hybrid-closed loop system that showed added burden from users because the system required so much extra input. The very idea that a device developed to increase automation needed users to think about it more was baffling. 

DIY systems are developed by people with diabetes, or loved ones of people with diabetes. Having that skin in the game means that there is a determination to deliver not only a product that does more, better, but one that doesn’t add to diabetes burden. You will never hear the idea of ‘it’s good enough’ because to us, it never is!

But even with these goals, there still is a user burden. Cartridges don’t fill themselves; infusion sets don’t change themselves; sensors don’t insert themselves; batteries don’t replace or recharge themselves. 

Which brings me to the latest toy I’ve started using, which has managed to cut a few tasks from my diabetes job list. 

The diabetes DIY world continues to push the envelope with all components of systems. And the latest from a group that has been looking at the use and affordability of CGM has recently been launched (albeit in limited numbers).

Say hello to Anubis, named for the god of death and the afterlife. The group working on Anubis has worked out how to give used G6 transmitters a new life, and, quite frankly, they are far more impressive in their afterlife! Simon Lewinson from the stunning and aptly named Mt Beauty part of Victoria has led on this work. Simon is the bloke who developed a rechargeable G5 transmitter – the Fenix – which has been one of my all time favourite pieces of DTech ever. I used it continually for about three years, only stopping to trial an Anubis.

I realised just how impressive the other day when I checked the settings on my newly inserted sensor using an Anubis transmitter:

That number circled is when my sensor expires – 60 days after the sensor was inserted. What that means is that there is no need for me to do a restart after 10 days. I’m not sure how many of you reading this have tried to restart a G6 sensor, but my experience has required my husband and a butter knife, and ensuring that sensor restarts were only done when there was harmony in the home. As someone who fully self-funds CGM, I will get every single last minute of life out of a sensor, so restarts G6s up to three times.

The spouse-wielding-cutlery step has now been removed, as has the need for a two hour warm up every ten days. Now, a sensor goes in, and it keeps going until it finally just stops working. I’m not really sure how long that will be. It’s day 12 now and there’s not been a blip, and I’m super interested to know just how many days it will tick along, undisturbed and uninterrupted. I certainly don’t expect to get to 60 days, but I’ll give it a red hot go!

My Anubis is the latest device in my arsenal that is helping to chip away at all the things diabetes demands of me – things that, quite honestly, spark no joy at all. I’ve not yet found that holy grail, but compared with what else there is available to me, and what I have used before, this is better. Less work, less burden, better results. Why wouldn’t I want more of that?!

Anubis in focus on my arm, surrounded by (kindly gifted) Rockadex tape in Diabetogenic colours!

Want more information?

The Bionic Wookiee has written this terrific piece explaining the nitty gritty tech details of Anubis. My eyes usually glaze over when reading this sort of stuff, but David does a stellar job making it interesting. And understandable!

Want an Anubis? Of course you do. This is the FB page to head to. It’s a new page and there’s not much on there just yet, but it is where info will be shared.

I really wanted to call this piece ‘Hey, ableds, leave our kit alone’, but decided against it.

Over the weekend, two main things seemed to dominate diabetes twitter. The first was the suggestion from a nurse (in a now deleted tweet) that shoving cake frosting (more commonly called icing in my parts of the world) up the arse (more commonly called ass in other part of the world) of an unconscious person with diabetes was an excellent hypo treatment. The second was this picture:

Click to see where this originally appeared on Twitter

Let’s just say that sexually assaulting a PWD to give them glucose is not a good idea, no matter how hypo you think they are. Call an ambulance, rub some frosting (or honey etc.) on their gums, or, if they have glucagon with them, and you what to do with it, use that. Once again, just to be completely and utterly clear, decorating the arse of people with diabetes as if it’s a plain tea cake in need of some ready some embellishing and sprinkles, is not appropriate without consent. If everyone is conscious and there is consent, do whatever you will. 

With that out of the way let’s move to the second fun little incident and that photo. That’s right, it clearly refers to one of the diabetes devices that I and many others use to keep an eye on our glucose levels because the bit of our body that takes care of it broke. 

Even before this photo appeared, there has been a lot of commentary from people with diabetes (PWD) about people without diabetes (non-PWD) using any sort of glucose sensing device. I think that in coming years we’re going to only see more of it as the makers of CGMs and Flash GM start to advertise the allure of glucose tracking to a broader audience, or, as is the case with the little photo above, third party app makers jump on board. 

Because the diabetes community never has one united opinion on things, (although I’m yet to have heard from a PWD who has thought the icing-up-the-bum-for-hypo-treatment idea is a good one), some people are violently opposed to the idea of non-PWD using CGM. Others couldn’t be less fussed about it if they tried. And some actually think it’s great. There is no one way to respond, and everyone’s feelings are valid. 

I have a lot of feelings wondering why non-PWD would want to do diabetes. From hypo simulators, to wearing a pump with saline in it, and lining up to get an A1c checked for fun – I’ve seen it, and I’ve written about it. Again, no one needs to agree with my feelings, although it seems from the feedback I get, a lot of people do. 

But I have to say that the idea of CGMs as a weight loss tool was a new one for me. I understand that some people who are deep into the keto way of life use them, but my understanding of this is so they can repeatedly prove to themselves (and badger others) that eating meat causes minimal changes to glucose levels, but eating grains of rice make lines move. 

I did a bit of a deep dive into the company behind this picture, (they are not the only one that is moving to capitalise on the excitement and interest around biohacking) and all I could find was a whole lot of pseudo-science speak that just screams scam to me! It preys on the insecurities of those who are trying to find happiness in the latest and greatest wellness fad. But this time, they claim to have science on their side. 

This isn’t new. Weight loss cons from ‘teatoxes’ to fat-busting pills to miracle diets to superfood super-promises, have been around for years. There is a reason that new players come onto the market every week, and that reason is not because they work. It’s because we have diet industry worth billions, we have people – often young girls – being told their worth is tied up in the number on their scales, and we have people desperately looking for something that will work to get them to that number, and get them there quickly. 

To explain their claims, they use science-speak to suggest that there is a medical side to what they are doing. It seems that the ‘trust me, I’m a doctor’ line works well for a lot of people. As do the words around graphs, data and glucose statistics. That might work for people who haven’t spent a shedload of time around doctors talking about graphs, data and glucose stats, but those of us who do, might see this as a load of bullshit. 

This, directly from the company’s website claims that the app ‘…provides an immersive experience that shows you a continuous line graph of your glucose data; provides alerts when glucose spikes or dips out of your weight-loss range’.

Weight-loss range? I really don’t understand what that means because the only time my glucose levels have equalled weight loss is when they have been off-the-charts high. Such as before I was diagnosed with diabetes, and the time I was in DKA thanks to gastro. I doubt that the idea is to somehow send people without insulin-requiring diabetes in DKA, because that is going to take a lot more than just banging a sensor on your arm, and loading an app onto your iPhone. 

Of course, that’s not what they mean. They are suggesting that by keeping glucose levels withing a tight range (the ‘weight-loss range’), there will be no excess glucose needing to be stored as fat. 

There is limited evidence to support that measuring glucose levels on non-PWD is beneficial, so the science is shaky to say the least. But that doesn’t stop the program being presented as super science-y and evidence-based. And for a lot of people, that illusion of science means they think that the subscription cost (because there’s always a subscription cost!) is worth it. 

But let’s move away from that for a moment, let’s ignore the lack of science, the cost and the hint that this could be nothing more than a money-making scam, targeting vulnerable people, because there is more that comes into play which explains why so many in the diabetes community push back at non-PWD wearing diabetes devices. 

Continuous glucose monitors were created for people with diabetes to better manage our condition. They give us access data that helps managing our diabetes like never before. They are life changing. They are life saving. They are also only available to a small percentage of the global diabetes population. I haven’t even touched on the fact that generally, it’s only people with type 1 diabetes who have access. People with other types of diabetes are even less likely to be able to get subsidised or funded CGM, even though many of them might benefit from using them. 

The idea that CGMS are toys of privileged biohackers, and being used exclusively as a weight-loss tool does not sit well with many. It does not sit well with me. If I look at Australia, only half of people with type 1 diabetes have subsidised access to CGM. The rest of us are left to having to find about $4K per year to fund the devices that really make a difference to our lives, that some of us say we couldn’t live without.  

The weight-loss focus from this particular company is problematic when considering the higher rates of disordered eating, and insulin omission or restriction in people with diabetes for the purposes of weight loss. Some claimed that seeing CGMs heralded as being about weight loss, when they are using it as part of their eating disorder recovery was triggering. These factors all come into play within the diabetes community. 

And finally, the idea that increasing use to a far broader community will bring down the cost…? Let’s just be reasonable about that (or sceptical…) and say that’s not going to happen. If that was the case, the fact that every keto-follower worth their ketosis now regularly checks their ketones, would mean that blood keto strips would be cheap as chips. That’s not the case at all. 

The potential of medical devices being used outside of the reason they were created is likely to be explored a lot more in coming years. With (non-healthcare) tech companies moving into the space, it is not only possible, but highly likely, that glucose sensing (albeit non-invasive) will become standard on wearables, in the same way step counters have. But we’re not there yet. Right now, the best use of these devices is where the evidence points – on the arms (or bellies, or thighs, or wherever!) people with diabetes are wearing them, to assist with diabetes management, to help us with our decision-making process, and to improve our lives.

NOTE:

In this piece, I mean ALL people with ALL types of diabetes, including pre-diabetes. Basically, any condition that means an individual needs to consider glucose levels.

Today, there was an article in online publication, The Limbic, which reported on a recent study conducted out of Westmead Hospital Young Adult Diabetes Clinic

The top line news from this research was that there is a high discontinuation rate of CGM in young people (aged 15 to 21 years). 

Let me start by saying I know that CGM is not for everyone. I don’t believe everyone should use it, have to use or even necessarily be encouraged to use it. As with everything, your diabetes technology wishes and dreams may vary (#YDTWADMV really isn’t a catchy hashtag, is it?), and there is a lot to consider, including accessibility and affordability. In Australia, affordability is not such an issue for the age group that was studied in this research. Our NDSS CGM initiative means that access to CGM and Flash is fully taxpayer funded (with no out-of-pocket expenses) for pretty much all kids, adolescents and young people up to the age of 21, provided a healthcare professional fills in the relevant form. 

The top-level findings from this research are that within the first week of starting to use CGM, almost 60% of study participants stopped. The decision to start CGM was made after a one-hour education program that was offered to 151 young people with diabetes, and 44 of them decided to start CGM. Of those 44, 18 young people continued using it. They happened to be the 18 young people who were more connected with their HCP team (i.e., had more frequent clinic appointments) and had a lower A1c, which the researchers suggested meant that they were struggling less with their diabetes management. The 26 young people who chose not to continue cited reasons for stopping such as discomfort, and inconvenience.

I had a lot of questions after I read about this research. (These questions arose after reading the Limbic’s short article and the research abstract. I will follow up and read the whole article when I can get access.)

If the young people who chose to not continue were already struggling with their diabetes management, is adding a noisy, somewhat obvious (as in – it’s stuck to the body 24/7), data-heavy device necessarily a good idea? Was this discussed with them?

Was any psychological support offered to those young people having a tough time with their diabetes? 

Was it explained to the young people how to customise alarms to work for them? If diabetes management was already struggling and resulting in out-of-range numbers, high glucose alarms could have been turned off to begin with. Was this explained?

What education and support had been offered in the immediate period after they commenced CGM therapy? Was there follow up? Was there assistance with doing their first sensor change (which can be daunting for some)? 

In that one-hour education they were offered before deciding to start on a CGM, did they hear from others with diabetes – others their own age (i.e., their peers) – to have conversations about the pros and cons of this therapy, and learn tips and tricks for overcoming some typical concerns and frustrations?

What was in that one-hour education program? Apparently, 151 young people did the program. And only 44 people chose to start CGM. Now, as I’ve already said, I don’t think CGM is for everyone, but 29% seems like a pretty low uptake to me, especially considering there is no cost to use CGM. Did anyone ask if the education program was fit for purpose, or addressed all the issues that this cohort may have? Why did so few young people want to start CGM after doing the program?

Were they using the share function? Did they have the opportunity to turn that off if they felt insecure about others being able to see their glucose data every minute of every day?

What frustrates me so much about this sort of research and the way it is reported is that there is a narrative that the devices are problematic, and that the people who have stopped using them have somehow failed. 

CGM may not be for everyone, but it’s not problematic or terrible technology. I remember how long it took me to learn how to live with CGM and understand the value of it. It took me time and a lot of trial and error. I didn’t want to wear CGM, not because it was lousy tech, or because I was ‘failing’, but because I hadn’t been shown how to get it to work with and for me. I had to work that out myself – with the guidance of others with diabetes who explained that I could change the parameters for the alarms, or turn them off completely.

And these young people are YOUNG PEOPLE – with so much more going on, already struggling with their diabetes management, and not connected with their diabetes healthcare team as much as the young people who continued using CGM. Do we have any information about why they don’t want to connect with healthcare professionals? Could that be part of the reason that they didn’t want to continue using CGM?

I don’t think we should attribute blame in diabetes, but it happens all the time. And when it does, blame is usually targeted at the person with diabetes, but rarely the healthcare professional working in diabetes. If a person with diabetes is not provided adequate, relevant education and support for using a new piece of tech, there should not be any surprise if they make the decision to not keep going with it. 

The positives here is that there is data to show that young people who are already struggling with their diabetes management may need other things before slapping a CGM on them. Cool tech can only do so much; it’s the warm hands of understanding HCPs that might be needed first here. Someone to sit with them and understand what those struggles and challenges are, and find a way to work through them. And if CGM is decided as a way forward, work out a gently, gently approach rather than going from zero to every single bell and whistle switched on. 

I am a huge supporter and believer in research and I am involved in a number of research projects as an associate investigator or advisor. I’m an even bigger supporter in involving people with diabetes as part of research teams to remind other researchers of the real-life implications that could be considered as part of the study, offering a far richer research results. Growing an evidence base about diabetes technologies is how we get to put forward a strong case for funding and reimbursement, increased education programs and more research. But sometimes there seems to be a lot of gaps that need filling before we get a decent idea of what is going on because the findings only tell one very small chapter in the diabetes story.

An old Roz Chast cartoon from the New Yorker 1986. (Click for details)
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