If you use a blood glucose meters from one of the big four meter companies to check your level four times a day, you will probably pay anywhere from $1,700 to $2,300 each year. But if instead you test with a meter and strips from one of the "big box" stores, you would be out of pocket only about $600 to $800.
This is a useful bit of information from the latest Consumer Reports review of the "Best Blood Glucose Meters." The magazine rates 21 meters in a brief article of one chart and five paragraphs in less than a page in its November 2012 issue.
The big box stores that sell some of the least expensive meters and test strips are Wal-Mart and Target. Wal-Mart has offered its ReliOn brand for years, but Target now offers its Up & Up brand.
Still, the wide price gap may be misleading. Each of the big four – LifeScan, Roche, Bayer, and Abbott – offer programs that can provide some of us test strips for considerably less.
Most people with diabetes will find the report, however brief, useful. It’s already on newsstands and, better yet, on the shelves of most libraries.
What Consumer Reports says is important. Published by the nonprofit Consumers Union and containing no ads, this is one of our largest circulation magazines. Two years ago it had a circulation of 7.3 million copies, according to a review of the magazine in The Wall Street Journal.
The magazine regularly reviews these meters, the most important tool that we have for managing our blood sugar. Four years ago I wrote here about its review of 13 meters from eight different manufacturers.
Other magazines also review our meters, notably Diabetes Forecast. Their review this past January provides some useful information, but it makes a point of noting that, "Diabetes Forecast doesn’t test or recommend products."
Men’sHealth has an article online reviewing the "10 Best Blood-Glucose Meters" This article is undated, but according to the Wayback Machine, it’s been online since February. It fails to tell us how it conducted its tests.
Unfortunately, Consumer Reports also omits that vital information. Both of these magazines rate the meters on the basis of accuracy and consistency (which Consumer Reports calls repeatability). But neither publications says what standards they use, how many people they tested, how many tests each of these people made, or even what organization did the testing for them.
Still, since the accuracy of the meters we have to use are one of the most common questions people ask me, here are the 9 of 21 meters that Consumer Reports rates excellent for accuracy:
FreeStyle Freedom Lite
Accu-Chek Compact Plus
Bayer Breeze 2
Up & Up
TrueResult Blood Glucose Monitoring Sytem
Here’s are the six of the 10 meters that MensHealth rated excellent for accuracy:
Most of us seem to care more about accuracy than consistency (or repeatability). But the latter is arguably even more important. It also seems to be rarer: Consumer Reports rated only five of the 21 meters that it tested as excellent in this respect:
FreeStyle Freedom Lite
Accu-Chek Compact Plus
MensHealth thinks that only one of the 10 meters it tested rates excellent for consistency:
Note that no one meter rated excellent in both accuracy and consistency in both reviews. But even more important, I think, is a strange anomaly that I wrote about in my earlier Consumer Report review of these meters. I wrote that here four years ago, and in the meantime spokespeople from LifeScan confirmed what I had written:
"More interesting, I think, is the meter model that the magazine rated excellent in consistency and accuracy. It’s LifeScan’s OneTouch UltraMini. The biggest surprise for me is that this inexpensive meter rates higher on consistency and accuracy than the two other LifeScan meters, the OneTouch Ultra2 and the OneTouch UltraSmart, that the article evaluated. All of these meters use the same test strips and technology."
I also need to repeat two points that I made four years ago when I reviewed a previous Consumer Reports review of blood glucose meters.
I would have happier with the article if they had included one or more WaveSense meters from AgaMatrix. The technology of this smaller meter manufacturer seems to be superior in consistency and accuracy.
The magazine also missed the main value meter. US Diagnostics sells Maxima meters, which use the least expensive test strips currently available.
Consequently, I consider the new Consumer Reports article (and to a much lesser extent the MensHealth article) a useful addition to our knowledge of the blood sugar meters that we have to use. Useful, but hardly the last word.
David Mendosa is a journalist who learned in 1994 that he has type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 keep his diabetes in remission without any drugs. He can be found on Twitter @davidmendosa and on Facebook at David Mendosa.