There are a lot of meters on the market, and in general they are all fairly good at getting the job done. For a majority of people it probably doesn’t much matter which meter they use, but you may have reasons for shopping around for something in particular.
For some people who have vision or dexterity problems—or who do not want to make a public display of checking their blood glucose—researching a number of meters before making a selection can be the way to go.
And even though meters on the market have a lot in common, there are a lot of differences, too.
It’s not at all unusual for people who use one type of meter to develop a strong preference for that brand, based on some very real considerations. So it’s a good idea to talk to other people and ask them what they like about the meter they use.
Other than personal recommendations and preferences, if you’re selecting your first meter or would like to compare what’s available, here are some features you should look at on each of the models you consider.
The FDA is looking into tightening the permissible accuracy range, but for now all meters must be within 20% accuracy of lab findings.
Sample size and time to results
The amount of blood meters require and the time it takes to get results have been decreasing markedly over the past decade. Most use less than 1.0 microliter of blood and take 10 seconds or less to display your reading.
Meters come in a variety of sizes—from pager-sized and smaller to more than 3 inches across. Size really is a matter of personal preference, in the end. Some like the small discreet sizes, others want a big one that won’t get lost in a purse.
Larger meters are not necessarily a better choice for someone with dexterity problems, but button size can be an issue. Larger buttons make moving through the screens easier.
Large print, good backlight—meters with these features are preferable, if your vision is compromised—or even if you want not to have to strain to read the results. Play with the meter. If you want a meter that’s easier to read, look for those meters with a large window, large print and a steady backlight.
Size of blood drop and discomfort index
Are your fingers sensitive? Some people have deeply calloused hands and feel nothing, others feel every prick. If that’s you, look for a meter that takes only 0.3 microliters of blood.
In addition, most meters claim they are pain free, but an analysis of lancing devices done in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology* by two members of the clinic staff at Joslin Diabetes Center confirmed there are significant differences across the whole spectrum of available devices.
Ease of use
Do you have difficulty inserting each strip and lancet one by one? Then perhaps a meter that bundles strips or lancets into a drum or container so you don’t have to individually insert them would be a better choice for you.
(Unfortunately, there currently isn’t a meter on the market that does both. But there isn’t any rule that says you can’t use a lancing device from one company and strips and meter from another.)
Do you download every day, or is the meter your sole record of your blood glucose results? Meters vary in their storage capacity: some can hold over 1,000 records. Many meters also have computer download capacity and can print reports of your blood glucose trends.
Some meters do a very thorough job of providing space for keeping records. Do you want to keep records of your medications, food and exercise—or are you only interested in checking your blood glucose?
Some meters are better than others when it comes to temperature operating ranges. Do you spend a lot of time hiking or sunning in the desert? If so, you might need a meter whose accuracy is intact at over 100 0F.
We all know it isn’t the meter itself that breaks the bank. It’s the ongoing drain of paying for strips that makes checking blood glucose expensive. So if you have medical insurance that covers a meter, be sure to check your policy before you buy. Sometimes the meter you choose is determined by which one your insurance company will cover. If you don’t want the one they cover, it becomes a question of how much you are willing to pay out-of-pocket for the strips.
Preferred vendors for glucose meters are constantly changing among private insurers, so you need to check with your coverage plan. Medicare has an open access policy: all meters are covered.
For more information about managing your blood glucose, check out the diabetes management information section of Joslin Diabetes Center’s web site, starting with
*Joyce Lekarcyk, B.S.N., R.N., C.D.E. and Suzanne Ghiloni, B.S.N., R.N., C.D.E., Analysis of the Comparison of Lancing Devices for Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose Regarding Lancing Pain J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2009 September; 3(5): 1144–1145. Published online 2009 September.Image by Bernard Farrell