Features That Matter
Coding. For your meter to produce accurate results, it must be set to recognize a batch code encrypted in each test strip. Some meters recognize the code automatically when a test strip is inserted, while others require “coding,” meaning that you do some of the work. With most meters that need coding, you push buttons to set the code manually. Coding may also mean inserting a code chip or a code key into your meter every time you open a new package of test strips, verifying that the code number on your test strip package matches the number that pops up on your meter, and leaving the chip in the meter until it’s time to open a new box. Some meters use calibrator strips, which you insert just like a test strip with every new box. Since forgetting one of these steps could very likely lead to inaccurate results, it may be worth considering a meter that needs no coding.
One caveat: There is no industry standard of what “auto coding” means. You’ll need to check the meter’s instructions to know for sure you’re getting a meter that only asks you to prick your finger, insert the test strip, and read the result. You can find a user manual on the manufacturer’s Web site or call customer service for help.
Some auto-code or no-code meters still call for you to check the code number on your meter display against the one on the test-strip box. This step is an extra precaution that you should take, but some meters don’t call for it or don’t display the code number on the meter. If you suspect you’re getting inaccurate results, first check that the code numbers match. If your meter doesn’t display the code number, test it with control solution or call customer service.
Size. Most standard meters are about the size of a deck of cards. A few meters are small enough to fit easily in your pocket. Shapes can vary; meters marketed as “compact” are often longer and thinner than standard-shaped meters. Note that just because a meter is small overall doesn’t necessarily mean its display will be small and hard to read. Travelers, teens, and athletes may especially like compact meters, while standard-size meters may work better for people who want more data storage or who just find them easier to handle, hold, and read.
Sample size. Each meter requires a minimum blood sample size on a test strip. It generally ranges from 0.3 to 1.5 microliters (chart, left). Most people prick their fingers using spring-loaded lancing devices that release a lancet at the push of a button. The smaller the needle’s gauge and the shallower its penetration under the skin, the less painful it is. (Changing lancets after each test may also help reduce pain and ensure an adequate blood sample.)
Alternate-site testing—taking blood samples from other parts of the body, including the palm, forearm, and thigh—requires a smaller blood sample and can reduce pain; some people are unable to get enough of a sample from alternate sites, however. All the meters in this guide offer instructions for such testing. You should ask your doctor if it is OK for you. (Never use alternate-site testing when your blood glucose is changing rapidly.)
Memory and averages. Most meters hold from 200 to 450 test results, apart from a few (click here for a list of meters that have a large amount of digital storage), as well as 7-, 14-, 30-, and 60-day average blood glucose readings. You may choose to sacrifice data storage for the convenience of having a very compact meter. Some examples: the True2Go, which holds 99 results; the Glucocard 01-mini, ReliOn Micro, and Sidekick, each of which stores 50; or the Rightest GM100, which stores only 10. Many meters let you sync your results to a computer program, which may help you better track your long-term control and keep your doctor informed. You’ll want to find out what software is needed, how much it costs, and whether it’s compatible with your computer.
Operation in hot and cold temperatures. Most meters are guaranteed to work in the same temperature range, about 50 to 104 degrees. Only one meter operates in less than 40-degree temperatures: the Sidekick, which is rated as working at 36 degrees. And a few operate at temperatures higher than 110 degrees. These meters (click here for a list of meters that work at higher and lower temperatures) may appeal to hikers, campers, hunters, and others who spend a lot of time outdoors. Heating and cooling packs can help keep your meter functioning in winter or summer conditions.
Travel ready. Many people buy a backup meter for travel use only. If shopping for one, pay special attention to size, operating temperatures, battery type, and data storage. A disposable meter like the Sidekick may be an easy option; you can pitch it when you’re done with it. If you don’t expect to buy many test strips, you may just want to buy the cheapest meter on the shelf, like a Walmart ReliOn Ultima, only $9 (other meters can range from $15 to $70 retail in a pharmacy). But if you travel frequently, do consider the cost of the test strips—and your insurance coverage. If you have to purchase a meter on the fly, you may want to select one that includes all the accessories you’ll need in one box—test strips, lancets, a lancing device, control solution, and batteries. No matter what meter you use, always travel with a set of backup batteries.
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