There is a device that you can get for home use to allow you to check your blood sugars at home, it’s called a glucometer. There are prescriptions that diabetics can get from their doctors to see if insurance will cover this device, or you can buy it over the counter which we will discuss more below. But first…
The process of checking your blood sugar/glucose level at home
- Have your items on the table ready to go- glucose meter, lancet device, lancet/needle, test strip, alcohol swab, cotton ball
- Insert the needle into the lancet device and place cap back on*
- Turn your machine on if it has a power button or insert the test strip**
- Clean off your finger you would like to poke with alcohol, wipe alcohol off with cotton ball
- Put lancet device against your finger and press the release button, this should be enough to poke through the skin and get a small amount of blood*
- Wipe the initial droplet of blood off, if it’s contaminated with alcohol it won’t read correctly
- Put a test strip into the machine, if you haven’t already, and wait for the droplet of blood to display on the screen.
- Once you see the droplet of blood on the screen you can place the test strip (while inserted into the machine) against your finger where the blood (it’ll pull it into the machine to read it)
- Wait about 5 seconds, the machine will display a number. That number is your current glucose reading
- Write down that number into a glucose log or a sheet of paper
*Lancet devices: Each one looks a little bit different, but they are mostly small and only about 3-4” long. Most are shaped like a pen and others are flattened out with a point/cap on the end. Each lancet device has a cap or cover that is on the end of it which can be removed either by twisting it or pulling it off. You’ll need to remove the cap and you’ll see a slot where you insert the needle/lancet. The lancets are about an inch-long skinny post with a circular top piece. The circular top piece is where you’ll want to grab it and insert the long post into the lancet device (after removing the cap). To remove the round circular piece, you just twist and pull off which will expose the needle. Discard the circular round piece and replace the cap to the lancet device.
If you’ve never used the lancet device before, I would suggest putting the setting on the lancet device to as high as it will go. Some lancet devices have a number wheel that you spin and it will go from 1-5, put the wheel on five- this is how hard the needle poke will stick you. I don’t know about you, but I only want to be stuck once if at all. There’s no reason to set it on 1 and continuously try to stick your finger it’ll cause pain but won’t poke you hard enough to get the amount of blood to use for the test. Once you have the setting on your lancet device, you no longer have to worry about changing it.
There are other lancet devices that have a rotatable cap on top and the more you twist it to the right the lower the cap goes down towards the needle. You’ll want to make sure the cap for this type of device is turned to the right so that it’s closest to the needle and able to poke you the first time.
Once your lancet device is holding your needle and you have it on the appropriate setting, you’ll need to make sure the needle is drawn back and ready to poke you. To do this, I just have patients press down on the button on the side of the device. You should hear a clicking sound. If the needle was already pressed in far enough for it to retract and hold itself then you’ll feel the needle release. If you heard a click but the lancet device didn’t jump much that’s okay. That just means the needle wasn’t far enough back to catch itself, that is why I have everyone just press the button first.
There’s going to be a lever at the bottom of the device that you will pull back on to retract the needle and put it into position. Once you hear the click, it’s ready to be used and you can move to step 3.
**When you have a brand-new glucose monitor, some machines will have you program the date and time, but you only have to do this once. Not every machine has an “On” button. If it does have an on button it will likely be on the top right or left-hand corner towards the back part of the machine, if you’re looking at it in your hand with the lettering legible. The meter should have a hole at the bottom of the machine where you insert your test strips.
Test strips look very different from one another depending on the company making them. Most of them will have a blank back side that goes face down, you’ll want to be looking at the printed side of the test strip. The test strip has two ends to it, one will go into the meter, the other will drawl the blood in. The part that is inserted into the machine will have either a metal piece or it will be black and/or white in color. The other end of the test strip will have what looks like a slit or clear part in the printed pattern and it’ll be directly at the end on the center that is where you’ll want to put the blood on. Other meters will have black circles or notches on either side at the end and none at the very tip, be sure to keep this in mind if you switch blood sugar meter brands. Return to step 4 if needed.
Over the Counter Blood Glucose Meters
Glucometers/glucose meters can be bought over the counter, without a prescription, at your local pharmacy or grocery store like Walgreens or Wal-Mart. A brand that I recommend for patients is the GE meter which about $16 or the meter itself and it includes a lancet device and carrying case. The lancet device is the item that will hold your needles that you’ll need to poke yourself with to draw blood. The needle must be changed prior to every use, yes this is important. Lancets are sold separately in a box of 100 for about $11. Test strips are also sold separately and come in a box 50 for about $12. The meter that you purchase should last a year or two depending on the frequency that you use it. To purchase the meter, test strips and lancets for a 3-month supply, you would be spending ~ $51 before tax. Remember, the meter doesn’t need to be replaced so often, so it will be cheaper next go around.
Another brand available that we recommend is the Relion which is a little bit cheaper. The meter is $9, 100 test strips is $35, and lancets come in a box of 200 for $3. That would come out to about $47 for 3 months, but you will still have enough lancets to last you another 3 months without having to purchase those next time. Whichever brand you decide to get, start with the meter, then check the details on the description and make sure that the lancets and test strips you are purchasing are the right kind for that particular machine. Each brand of meter may have a few different types of test strips or lancets for newer or different versions of a blood sugar meter.
Both of the options above are meters that do not require you to “code” the machine when you get new test strips. You’ll want to check the box and see if there’s something that says “no coding required” or something along those lines. That will make your life much easier. If you do have a meter already purchased and it states that coding is required, then these are the steps for you to take:
- Turn on the machine: Either by pressing the on button or inserting a test strip. This is where the numbers will be displayed, it may come after a date and time pops up.
- Check your test strip bottle and see the numbers on the side of your bottle, it might say 27. Once the machine powers on you’ll want to make sure the numbers 27 are displayed.
- If the machine does not match your bottle number, you’ll need to adjust that by pressing the arrows (up or down) to change the number.
You do not need to code the test strips every time you check your blood sugar, you’ll just want to make sure your numbers match once you open a new bottle of test strips.
Some glucometers have a memory bank where they store your blood sugar readings for you so you can scroll through them and see what you’ve been running. Some people like to bring that into the doctor’s office with them, but it’s not necessary. What your doctor really needs is a written or typed log of your glucose readings if they are prescribing you diabetic medications or if they asked you to check your sugars.
If you are someone with diabetes and your doctor wants you to check your blood sugars on a routine basis, your insurance may cover some of the costs that you’ll incur with these testing supplies.
Your physician will have to choose a particular brand of machine to prescribe, this is purely a guessing game. With all the various types of prescription meters available, it’s best that you do the leg work and call your insurance company first. You can call the phone number on the back of your insurance card and ask them what kind of diabetic blood sugar meter brand that they recommend. Also ask them if there are certain companies that you need to use in order to get these supplies at a cheaper cost or if they are okay with you using a local retail pharmacy.
Once you know what brand of meter they want you to use and where you need the items sent call your doctor and ask that the prescriptions be sent over so you can get your supplies. If it’s a local pharmacy, the pharmacy should let you know once your prescriptions are ready for pick up. If it’s a mail order type company, you’ll want to make sure you contact them first to establish an account with them so they have your information in their system before your doctor sends over prescriptions for you.
SIDE NOTE: I absolutely DO NOT recommend calling any advertisement on TV and giving them your information especially if you have Medicare. I do not care if this is for diabetic testing supplies, pain cream, back braces etc. There have been a lot of people being taken advantage of and their information being tossed around with companies like this. Yes, even if the advertisement says it’s completely free- more than likely it’s a lie and you’ll get a bill later and wont’ be able to get a hold of the company because every option you press to talk to an actual person leads you to a voicemail that will never be returned.
For many patients that have insurance, usually the glucose meter itself is free, but you’ll have the cost of the test strips and lancets. I would definitely price my options, it’s not necessarily the prescriptions that are less expensive in this case. I’ve seen many insurance companies want to charge several hundred dollars every few months for the same supplies they can get over the counter for ¼ of the price. It’s the same technology being used, I don’t see the use in paying more for the same stuff in a prettier package.
Just a reminder… Do not reuse needles when your check your blood sugar. Always use a new test strip when checking your blood sugar or it won’t work. Discard your needles in a plastic bottle or coffee can so it doesn’t poke through the trash bag and hurt anyone. Also check with your pharmacist or doctor’s office and see if they can discard your needles for you because they are not supposed to go in the regular trash.
Please refer to prior posts regarding low blood sugar and high blood sugar readings and what to do for when those pop up.
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