As Ryan Rock inspects the grounds at his job at a hotel in downtown Victoria, he pulls a small device out of his pocket. He holds it up against a small round patch stuck to the back of his arm until it beeps, then looks at the screen and smiles. His blood sugar levels are looking good.
Rock is using a blood glucose monitoring device called the FreeStyle Libre, which became available in Canada in September 2017, but only became covered by most insurance companies in the past couple months. The device allows Rock to test his blood sugar levels using a scanner and a patch, which can stay on for two weeks at a time. The meter works differently than traditional blood strips because it tests the glucose levels of a person’s interstitial fluid and doesn’t require blood to be drawn.
As a result, Rock, who was diagnosed with diabetes 18 years ago, has been able to test his glucose levels 10 times more than before.
“Normally I wouldn’t check my blood sugars that often, because it’s really inconvenient to poke your finger and let it bleed,” he says. “But the scanner has a function that tells you how many times per day you scan, and yesterday I checked 47 times!”
|Ryan Rock shows off a new glucose monitoring device called the Freestyle Libre. He has only had it for a week, but says he now has a much better understanding of his blood sugar levels and how to control them. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS|
Using the strips, Rock would check his levels three or four times per day. Since he started using the Freestyle Libre a week ago, he’s made some significant realizations about his glucose levels.
“I figured out I was taking too much insulin at night,” he says. “It shows a graph, so I’ve already adjusted that and I feel much better because I can sleep through the night.”
While he was figuring this out, his wife was able to scan him while he was sleeping and notice his levels were low.
“She woke me up and I took a sugar pill and it was much better,” Rock says.
The traditional blood strips cost $1 each, so testing himself four times per day would see him spend upwards of $120 per month. The FreeStyle Libre meter costs $50, and the biweekly patch is $90. Rock was hesitant at first about the expense, but after his doctor prompted him to check his medical benefits, Rock found out that his insurance provider, Great West Life, had been covering it for just over a month.
The FreeStyle Libre website indicates that most major Canadian health insurance providers are now also covering it.
|A side-by-side comparison of Ryan Rock’s blood sugar levels over two days. He wants to stay in the target zone, indicated by the blue line. The image on the left shows a typical day of rising and dropping blood sugars, while the one on the right shows steady blood sugar levels from noon until 6:00 p.m. Having the new meter helps him monitor and control his levels. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS|
But the Freestyle Libre isn’t for everyone, cautions Shelbourne Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy owner Carolyn Scarf.
“It shouldn’t be used if you need immediate results regarding your highs and lows,” she said. “It tests a different fluid, so the lows will show up later and that could put you in a dangerous position.”
She said it would be ideal for experienced diabetics who want to have a better grasp of the link between activity, food and blood sugar levels, or for people uncomfortable poking themselves with needles.
At this point, the Freestyle Libre is not available at local pharmacies, but can be purchased at myfreestyle.ca. The company’s manufacturer, Abbott Diabetes Care, was unable to confirm a time that the meters would be more widely available.
Nonetheless, Rock is happy about the convenience and precision of his new purchase.
“Now, I can check 100 times per day if I want,” he says, adding with a laugh, “though, right now I think I’m probably over-testing because it’s so cool.”