Monday, November 7, 2011

Love-Hate Relationship: the Bayer Contour USB Glucose Meter

How does Bayer manage to prevent their Contour USB blood-glucose meter from getting a five-star rating from me? It wasn't easy! It's easy to use and has a lot of good features, including keeping a record of every blood-sugar reading we've ever taken (over 700 so far). It's easy to use, reliable, and rugged. It has a good display, with color and everything -- and it uses scary colors to get your attention for high and low readings! The user interface with the three on-board buttons works just fine. The battery lasts for weeks and recharges quickly from any USB port.

The USB port is a good feature. The Contour USB looks basically like an oversized USB flash drive, so you can plug it directly into a USB port without a cable. And it comes with a cute little wall charger if you don't habitually charge it on your PC, like I do.

But their software has a clumsy and unfinished feel. The built-in clock doesn't know about daylight savings time. The "Glucofacts" software is supposed to run automatically when you plug the unit into your computer's USB port, and it doesn't. The user interface of the software is hard to figure out for such a simple program. Sigh.

But these are minor annoyances. The reports are pretty cool. Here's a trend from the last month (click the chart to enlarge):

Note that the chart says at the bottom left, "Created on Saturday, November 5, 2011," but the chart has data through November 7. The program hasn't noticed that I launched it two days ago and it isn't November 5 anymore! This is the sort of thing that bothers me about this product. The main features work, but the details are sloppy. Come on, Bayer! Get it right!

The green area is within target (70-140 mg/dl), while orange means low and yellow means high. This graph shows, to my eyes at least, that Karl has a few lows and more highs, but the graph is hard to interpret otherwise.

But check this out, a "Standard Day" graph that overlays all the readings onto a single 24-hour chart (click the chart to enlarge):

Wow, look at how Karl's blood sugar rises in the afternoon and evening! Not all the time, but there are essentially no high readings during the morning, but by the time he gets home from school, between 3:30 and 4:00 PM, we start seeing more and more highs. Not only that, but we see fewer lows later in the day.

To us, this implied that either (a) his bedtime Lantus wasn't lasting 24 hours, or (b) he needs a smaller carb ratio for lunch and dinner (that is, more insulin) than he was getting. So we're trying both twice-a-day Lantus and more insulin at lunch and dinner, and we'll see what happens.

So where do I stand with the Bayer Contour USB product? I've tried three meters, and this is my favorite, hands-down. It's worth it for the display and the easy USB data download so I can put the charts together. I've also used the Bayer Contour, which has a lot fewer features (while taking the same Bayer blood glucose test strips and using the same Glucofacts software). I've also tried the LifeScan OneTouch Ultra Mini, which is okay as a meter, but is bigger than the Contour USB and doesn't have the color display or the built-in USB plug, so I was unimpressed.

My verdict? I love the meter and I'm annoyed at the software, but my advice is, "Buy the Contour USB right now!"

And, Bayer? Do us a favor and hire some software engineers who know what "user experience" means.

We got our Contour USB for free at the hospital (suppliers like Bayer really want your lifetime test-strip business, and a free meter is their best chance to get it). If you don't know anyone with a drawer full of these, they're available cheap almost anywhere. Check out the Amazon link below, for instance.

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