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Livongo Health: First Impressions of Their Meter.

Disclosure:  Manny Hernandez, SVP of Member Experience at Livongo Health, reached out to me a few weeks ago about test driving the Livongo meter.  Manny is my good friend, and diabetes is not my friend, so anything that helps a friend and also helps me take a bite out of diabetes is a welcomed opportunity.  For the purposes of this post, please know that the Livongo meter starter kit was sent to me at not cost, as were the test strips.  I offered to write about my experiences.  I’m not being paid for any of this.  All perspectives are mine.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying out the Livongo Health glucose meter.  These are my first impressions.  For another take, check out this post from the College Diabetes Network.  Time to purge thoughts:

The glucose meter is solid, and familiar enough to not be confusing.  The meter itself is big, but nice.  It’s much bigger than the Verio Sync that I’ve been using for the last two years, and I have a fear of dropping it on the floor and having it smash into a thousand pieces (as is my life trend).  The meter also did not fit into the bag I have been using for my One Touch meter, so I had to find a bigger bag.  The test strips are also much bigger (almost comically so).  But size, for me, doesn’t matter too much since my meter exists on my kitchen counter or in my purse, never in my pocket.  The color screen is very cool.  The touch screen is even cooler, and was appropriately responsive to commands from my digits.  Nicely done.

On the whole, checking my glucose was easy, especially since I’ve used lots of different meters in my years with diabetes.  The meter lets you know when the strip is ready for blood, and while you’re waiting for the countdown to the result, the meter gives you a little health fact.  “Did you know that laughing is a great way to reduce stress (make you feel better)?”  I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for the meetings where they came up with dozens of these gems.  I enjoyed every, single one of them, even the repeats.  They gave a dose of personality and humanity to a task that is oftentimes less-than-enjoyable.

Syncing my results to the cloud wasn’t always seamless.  More often than not, my meter would claim that the connection to cellular signal {EDIT – I originally thought this was a wifi signal, but Manny let me know it’s a cellular connection.}  was too weak, and promised to send the result after my next check.  This didn’t bother me too much, but I with there was a manual way to send my results, instead of having to wait until the next check.  Hopefully that comes with the next iteration.

On the meter, the Snapshot Summary is very useful for me.  That’s why I like the Verio so much, because it uploads to my phone, giving me at-a-glance access to what my numbers have been like for the last two weeks.  The Livongo meter hits that same sweet spot.  The Logbook screen is basic and if this was my primary meter, it would be a good screen to track.  Same for the Patterns & Stats screen.  This screen was particularly helpful because it tracked my averages for specific times of day, and then gave me a percentage in-goal range on the same screen, for 14 days, 30 days, and 90 days worth of data.  Again, it’s hard to get a full feel for how functional these screens would be in my life because I’ve only been using the meter for about two weeks.  But a meter that logbooks automatically (automagically?) is an asset for someone like me who loathes to logbook.

The Activity option on the meter confused me, to be honest.  I wear a FitBit and I enjoy those competitions, but it’s easy to wear the FitBit on my wrist while I’m moving around.  Trotting around with my glucose meter on my hip is not going to happen.  Ever.  If this setting expanded to include activity trackers outside of the Livongo brand, that would be awesome.  Otherwise, this setting becomes akin to the one on the Apple watch (for me, anyway):  I already have a fitness tracker.  I don’t want to use four of them.  Communicate with the one I already use, or maybe allow for manual input?

The online portal is comprehensive.  I like logging into the online portal and seeing the weather for my location.  It was a touch creepy at first (I am predictably creeped out by how much the Internet knows about my location), but then it became a nice thing.  Like, “Hey.  Good morning, Kerri.  It’s 54 degrees out in your sunny corner of Rhode Island.  Put on a coat before walking to the bus stop, kitten.”  Only it didn’t call me kitten.  Though I’m sure that can be programmed in.

Two notes:  In updating my personal health profile on the Livongo portal, I entered my diagnosis date (9/11/1986) and realized that the year option only went back to 1979.  Is that because it was taking my birthday into account?  If so, clever.  Less-than-clever is the field about my last A1C.  I was able to note when my last A1C was taken, and also what the value was.  But I did not have the option NOT to enter a value.  I didn’t like this.  When it comes to health information stored on an external website, I prefer the option to share or not share.  Forcing the A1C value felt … forced.

The online portal allows me to add folks to access my data, in as much real-time as possible.  I can add people (Chris, my mom, my best friend) to be alerted to my blood sugars when they are out of range.  If I had a child with diabetes, this would be a terrific option because it would help me stay on track with what’s going on when my kid is out of my arm’s reach.  But as an adult with diabetes, I don’t need to alert my family and friends if I check and am low or high.  I realize this flies in the face of my decision to share CGM data, but there’s a difference for me:  my CGM data will stream to the cloud and alert my family in the moments when I might not be awake or aware enough to check my blood sugar.  A low in the middle of the night is not always confirmed with a glucose check.  Most of the time, I wake up knowing I’m in trouble, and I treat without checking first.  The important thing is bringing up the low; I don’t need to know the exact number.

The portal also allows a health team to be created (or at least documented), letting me add my doctor to receive updates from my meter in a comprehensive way.  Again, this isn’t something I have any plans to take advantage of, but for people who need and/or want to be in more constant contact with their medical team, this is a terrific option.  (I don’t think my doctor wants to hear from me all the time, but when I was pregnant, I know she would have loved receiving my logs every two weeks, instead of me faxing them to her office.)  Through the portal, you can also access a Livongo health coach (from their team of CDEs) who will walk you through different issues at a pace set by you.  I haven’t tried this feature out yet, but if you have and can offer some feedback, I’d love to hear it.

The meter results are what matter most to me, though.  Size, color, bells, whistles, etc don’t matter when it comes to accuracy.  I have an inherent mistrust of all data (I think it stems from the lack of trust I have for my stupid pancreas), so I check and double check new devices until I feel comfortable with them.  To that end, I’ve used my Verio meter every time I’ve used my Livongo meter, and have checked both of those results against my CGM data.  (Excessive?  Yep.  But the meter came as part of a trial experience, so it wasn’t an out of pocket cost.)  Overall, the Livongo meter ran lower than the Verio meter.  Not enough to cause an uproar, but enough that I noticed every time.  My Verio meter was closer to my Dexcom on the whole, but I also use the Verio to calibrate my Dexcom, so there’s a data bias in play.  But everything was in line, well enough, to make me feel comfortable making insulin decisions off the Livongo results.

Did I trust the results?  Yes.  Well enough, at least, to be honest.  It’s hard for me not to defer to the tech that shows me as higher because when shown lower results, my brain immediately thinks, “Yes, but what if I’m actually the higher number?  That should be corrected.  I don’t want to be lulled into a false sense of security.”  I plan to use the Livongo meter to calibrate my next Dexcom sensor, to see if that shows a noticeable trend difference.  I’ve talked about new tech here on SUM often, and the running theme seems to be that I balk at change.  “New” and “different” are always initially met with a “get off my lawn” response, because I don’t like adjusting to anything new.  (Case-in-point:  The clip on the Animas pump made me crazy at first, because the top of it was just ever-so-slightly different from the Minimed one.  It took me at least two weeks to adjust to how that felt.  But then I got used to it.  Same with the new G5 transmitter, which is slightly thicker than the G4 transmitter, and it currently feeling like a doorknob attached to my thigh.  I’m sure I’ll adjust to that newness, too, but it takes me some time.  Also, you’re welcome to stay on my lawn.  I don’t mind.  It will just take a few days for me to get used to you being there.)

Looking at the cost.  There is an early access program being offered by the Livongo team right now (but rapidly drawing to a close, so if you want to sign up, I’d recommend doing that today.  Manny advised that the offer is “winding down as we speak.”).  For more details, you can click on this link or on the image below.  I’m not sure about insurance coverage for this meter and it’s associated services, but I do know that the early access program offers a deal with subscription.  From the website:  “The In Touch blood glucose monitoring system and all supplies, including unlimited strips and lancets — even shipping costs — are covered as part of your subscription.  Your participation as an early access member costs only $25 per month (guaranteed for 2 years).”  It’s the “unlimited” promise, as it pertains to the test strips, that peaks my interest for sure.  Strips are the priciest part of testing my blood sugar, so “unlimited” is a nice and welcomed bonus.

I’ll check back in a few weeks with second impressions of the Livongo meter.  If there’s anything specific you’d like to know more about, please ask!  Thanks to Manny, and the team at Livongo, for letting me give this meter a go.

 

 

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for the review! So I’m trying to understand this…The cost is $25 a month for the system and all the strips you need? So since I test 10+ times a day (hello, hypo-unawareness) they’d provide the strips I need for that cost? If so, I’d join for the cost savings alone, but I’m guessing “unlimited” actually has limits…

    Also, how long does it take to get results? I’m imagining them including those friendly little messages as an attempt to keep you from screaming at a 60 second wait…

    10/23/15; 3:42 pm
    • Chris Wilson #

      As far as I can tell, “unlimited” really is unlimited. I’ve been using it for two weeks, and already gone through ~350 strips.

      10/23/15; 3:52 pm
  2. Hi Elizabeth and Chris,
    Indeed, the program is set up for unlimited strips: it’s thought of to remove the hassles/barriers associated with diabetes management, one of which tends to be number of test strips that PWD face.

    BG results take very little. I would say no more than 3 seconds. The little messages actually are little. 🙂

    10/23/15; 10:07 pm
    • Thanks, that sounds amazing, I’m going to sign up! 😀

      10/25/15; 8:56 am
  3. Sebastian #

    My assumption is that because the strips cost .001 to produce somewhere in China, Taiwan, or anywhere NOT in the USA they can afford to provide unlimited strips. With the new ISO standards coming out with tighter accuracy requirements there is no way they can comply. Granted this goes for other “generic” products like True Trac, True Result, or any other store brand. This only leads to higher ambulatory and hospitalization costs including death because of false positives/negatives.

    04/28/16; 1:12 pm
  4. Cynthia Van Den Berge #

    I mirror your sentiments exactly. My first impression was “what a brick!”. And those strips…Oh my, very cartoonish and so BIG! Made me think that children might like this meter, except for the larger volume of blood required compared to many of today’s modern meters. I’ve started to hate using it because I can’t help but feeling judged by a machine….”you are too high” or “you are too low” and God forbid that I would ever involve my health care team by notifying them if I was high or low.
    The great thing is that it is supplied free through my work and I have free strips forever (OK, that is sort of a benefit, but I get free One Touch strips through my insurance). Ordering is super easy and the meter even tells you that you are in need of ordering more strips. That is pretty cool.

    10/18/16; 3:19 pm

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