Accessing Diabetes Information For Non-Academics
One frustrating thing about trying to learn about diabetes is when you know the information exists, but you can't gain access to it.
The most obvious case is trying to read the full text of articles in academic journals. In many cases the full texts are available online, but only if you pay $30 or more to read them. That's too much.
If you live near a university and they subscribe to the journal, you can read the full text that way. Sometimes if you write to the author, the author will send you a "reprint," but sometimes not.
Some publishers have a "patient access" portal that will send you the full text of the article either free or for a small processing fee. Some journals provide the full text of articles more than 6 months or a year old. Others won't.
I understand why journals have to charge money for their products. If they gave everything away, they couldn't afford editors, and the quality of the articles would decline.
So until they figure out other ways to make money, as some groups like the Public Library of Science have done already, charging for current articles doesn't bother me that much. Charging for 10-year-old articles does.
But there's another area in which it can be frustrating to try to get information: technical support.
The companies that make our meters all have customer service departments that are availably 24/7. That works well for the most common problems.
But if you're fairly sophisticated about your meter and you want information that goes beyond "Did you wash your hands?" getting that information can be like pulling teeth. The companies hire people who may know less than you do about blood glucose testing but are trained to follow a script that covers the most common problems.
I had experience with this lately when I called LifeScan to ask about the new Ultra strips. The old strips were black; the new ones are blue and the area that sucks in the blood looks smaller. I wondered if they took less blood.
The technical support person told me the only difference they'd been told was that the new strips were blue and they were all coded 25. Wait a minute! The purpose of coding is to compensate for slight differences in the production process that make different batches of strips read slightly differently. If the strips are all coded the same, then the manufacturing process must have changed. Did it? She just repeated what she'd said.
So I went to the LifeScan Web site and asked there. They said the manufacturing process had changed but the sample size was the same. I wrote again, noting that the sample area looks smaller.
This time they explained that "A small change was made to the physical shape of the confirmation window, as you observed. No change was made to the active area of the test strip responsible for accurately reading blood glucose results. The amount of blood required remains the same."
So I did eventually get the answers to my questions, but it was like pulling teeth to get it.
I'm still not comfortable with the single coding number of the strips. What happens if one particular batch reads high or low? Will they throw all those strips away? I doubt it.
Mostly, I'm not comfortable with not really understanding how our testing works because it's so difficult to get real information. Occasionally, when I've persisted, the phone reps have given me to a supervisor, who understands more, and I've gotten some useful information. But I don't always have the energy to persist.
These companies need to have a system whereby you could speak with a more knowledgeable technical rep when your questions went beyond the routine. Sometimes just a little more knowledge can make a big difference in how accurate our readings are, and that can improve our control.
Better control means lower medical expenses, and everyone will benefit from that.