Ask a Diabetes Educator: What is the Freestyle Libre?

You may have heard about a new type of glucose monitoring system, which is now available in Australia, that obtains glucose readings without finger pricking. This is the first system of its kind and it is known as a flash monitoring system. Readings are obtained quickly, painlessly and even through your clothes.

How it works

The flash monitoring system has two components:

  • A sensor which you insert on your upper arm and is roughly the size of a 20 cent piece. It stays in place for 14 days.
  • A reader which also doubles as a traditional blood glucose and ketone meter.

A glucose reading is obtained by simply swiping the reader over the sensor. A single scan provides up to eight hours of glucose data which is a considerable increase on the information we currently receive by daily finger pricking. An arrow shows how your glucose is trending – up, down or stable.

There is also a Freestyle Libre Link mobile app which works with certain smart phones. Please check the website or call Abbott customer service if you’re unsure if your phone will be compatible. The app allows you to see glucose readings on your phone, send your data to your doctor and obtain an estimate of your A1c once you have sensor data for more than five days. Without the app, data can be sent to your computer by connecting the meter via USB cable.

A major difference with the flash meter compared to a traditional meter is that the fluid being measured is different. Traditional meters measure capillary blood, whereas the flash meter measures the glucose in the interstitial fluid which is the fluid around the cells. Because of this, the flash monitor has a time lag of 10 – 15 minutes behind a traditional finger prick. Think of a train engine pulling a carriage – a traditional BGL would be the engine and the flash meter reading would be the carriage, which runs behind. This means that, in times of rapidly changing glucose levels, problems can arise as the information you are seeing is slightly delayed. So, when you scan, if the way you are feeling does not match the reading displayed on the sensor, a finger prick should be done.

Costs

There are costs involved with using this system, which are currently not subsidised. The reader is a one off expense – currently $95, and each sensor is $92.50 and lasts two weeks. There are currently no promotional offers. A letter was submitted by Abbott to the Department of Health on 7 July 2017 to request NDSS discounts be offered for the Libre. At the time of writing they are still waiting for a reply.

In summary

Pros of FreeStyle Libre:

  • More information to help guide diabetes management decisions
  • Quick to use and discrete – swipe over clothes
  • No sharps or blood to worry about
  • Less pain – just insert a new sensor every 14 days with far fewer finger pricks needed
  • Easy to get a reading and can store up to 90 days of glucose history
  • Rechargeable battery – three hours to fully charge
  • Smart phone app available for some smart phones allowing for easy access to glucose trends
  • When used as a blood glucose meter, the Libre is a smart meter so rapid acting insulin doses can be recommended by the meter, if your health professional has set up this function for you.

Cons of FreeStyle Libre:

  • Cost
  • May not be as reliable when blood glucose levels are changing rapidly due to the time lag
  • The app only works with limited smart phones
  • Lack of support with its use if you’re not being looked after by a Diabetes Education Centre. The Abbott customer care line will go through the insertion process step by step over the phone and there are instructional videos which you can watch.

If you are considering the Libre system you can either contact your diabetes team, who may be able to help set it up for you, or call Abbott customer care on 1800 801 478  Monday – Friday between 8am – 6pm.

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