A recent study from the University of Michigan found that many people with diabetes test blood sugar more often than they need to.
They found 14% of people with type 2 diabetes who don’t require insulin are buying enough test strips to test their blood sugar two or more times a day—even though medical guidelines say these low-risk patients needn’t test so frequently.
That effort is costing patients time (and sometimes worry) while their insurance plans pay hundreds of dollars a year to cover the excess supplies.
In the study, the team focused on the subset of people with type 2 diabetes who receive no benefit from daily tracking of blood sugar levels.
This includes patients who don’t take any medicines to reduce their blood sugar and those who take oral medicines that do not require monitoring.
The team looked at information from a national insurance database of 370,740 people with type 2 diabetes made available through the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
They studied only type 2 diabetes patients who were not taking insulin and who filled prescriptions for packets of 90 test strips three or more times a year, suggesting they were testing their blood sugar regularly.
They also looked at data from patients who didn’t fill any test strip prescriptions.
In all, 23% of the study population—86,747 people—filled test strip prescriptions three or more times.
But more than 20% of this subset didn’t fill any prescriptions for diabetes medications, and additional 43% filled prescriptions only for metformin or other medicines that didn’t carry a risk of hypoglycemia.
After patients find the dose of these medications needed to keep their sugar levels stable, they don’t need to do daily testing.
But even though 63% of the patients who filled test strip prescriptions didn’t need to test daily, they were using an average of two test strips a day.
The team says even if patients don’t have to test multiple times daily, or once a day, some people with type 2 diabetes may do so to “know their numbers” and keep tabs on how their diet, exercise, and medicine are affecting their sugar levels.
For those who are testing daily and don’t have to, their providers should tell them that they have the option to stop and offer more helpful tests that tell patients their average blood sugar level over the past two to three months.
The research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine and conducted by Kevin Platt et al.
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