Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me With A Bayer Contour USB Meter

On April 1, it was my (dare I say it?) 41st birthday. Because I don't have kids and I'm at an age where I can pretty much buy whatever I want whenever I want it, I'm well beyond the whole "I want that for my birthday" phase of life because I don't really have to deny myself all that much (the one possible exception being vacation time, and that's an employer issue, not really a personal option). So when I was asked what I wanted for my birthday, I actually chose something that many people might say was kind of inappropriate for birthday gift: the Bayer Contour USB blood glucose meter. I wanted one because it looked kind of cool and had some neat features, but I did not like the price-tag (although most brands are covered by most insurance companies ... except the brand I'd like to use AgaMatrix WaveSense meters because of their accuracy, but they aren't on many insurance formularies, which I told my contact at the company ... they claim to be working on it, but it's tough to do without giving the product away to insurance companies), but wasn't willing to spend $75 for a trial device.

I certainly didn't NEED the Bayer Contour USB meter because I already have another brand I use all the time (I test around 14 times per day, so companies should be lusting after my business AND willing to give me a free meter -- even a costly one) as well as an estimated 5 different backups (those I keep in the glove compartment of my car, in my office desk drawer, a second one, a backup I carry with me in my bag, etc., etc., etc.). But I also wouldn't even think of going out and spending $75 on a glucose meter, so I figured this might be my only opportunity to try it. I must disclose that the manufacturer (Bayer) did NOT give me ANYTHING (not even an offer!) to try it (if they want to, they can locate me or leave a comment on my blog, I'd welcome some free strips to extend my trial!), so I am 100% objective and completely unbiased in my review of the product. Nothing against my peers (such as Chris who was very forthcoming about the fact that the company sent him the device at no charge) who have gotten free samples - I wouldn't mind getting one like this! But truthfully, I don't exactly make it easy for manufacturers to reach me because I don't publish my contact information (that's by design), although it CAN be done -- and has been. I generally pride myself in not having been a recipient of any "blog-ola" as it's come to be known, which I view as a plus when it comes to my objectivity in providing an objective review.

Let me begin by noting that I honestly don't believe there's anything materially different in terms of the underlying technology between the various meters & test strips from Johnson & Johnson's Lifescan/One Touch, Abbott's Freestyle, Roche's Accu-Check, or Bayer's Contour meters in terms of underlying technology. In fact, the FDA seemed to validate this assumption a while back by issuing a warning that applied to ALL electro-chemical meters (the old, color-based test strips were exempt from the warning) about over-the-counter medicines that could impact test results -- the warning was not specific to a particular brand. None of them are any more or less accurate, because they all pretty much use the same electro-chemical reagents to generate an electrical charge that results in a meter reading. All of the competition (the notable exception being AgaMatrix, which just signed a deal with drug giant Sanofi-Aventis, which could get that more-reliable technology on formularies for many insurance companies that don't presently cover AgaMatrix Wavesense testing supplies today) use very similar technology.

Nowadays, manufacturers pretty much market testing supplies largely with lame-ass gimmicks, such as unsubstantiated claims of smaller samples that's supposed to translate into less pain (since they all require the same lancet, I fail to comprehend those claims), or else faster results -- nice, but considering the average is now about 5 seconds for the major brands, I wonder when they'll get to a point when the meter GIVES me time?! The most recent gimmicks have come down to such things as petty designer colors, as if they were selling nail polish to tween-aged girls or something. But Bayer appears to have done some homework, and based on my initial trial, I think they've scored VERY well on several accounts, which I'll address just ahead in this post.

Marketing of blood glucose testing supplies today is either by aggressive sales forces who work to get the product on every single insurance company formulary (that's tough unless they negotiate big price breaks), and/or via annoying salesmen/women who pester doctors all the time, thereby detracting them from actually treating us as the patients. If they want to call on doctors, I think they should do it at a time when the doctors aren't seeing patients.

Anyway, I've been using the J&J One Touch Ultra for a while now, and although I'm not crazy about their meters (but I DO need to use some brand), there really hasn't been much to get me to switch brands. I really believe that J&J completely takes my business for granted -- I'm only loyal to the brand because of inertia, and nothing else.

Over the years, I have tried many different brands, and I'd switch from my current brand if there was something fundamentally different about the products but mostly they're just variations on the same theme. That was until this Bayer meter came along, which has built-in software, it's very compact, yet has a full-color display screen, a lighted test-strip insertion location (if needed), huge storage capacity, and it recharges from the USB port on your computer (or from a wall outlet if you're away from a PC).

I tried Abbott's Freestyle product (back in the day, I had a Freestyle Tracker that worked with my Handspring Personal Digital Assistant/PDA -- that company was later acquired by rival Palm) a number of years ago. While it was nice having my appointments, contacts, and meter all in a single device, that was really more of temporary route to today's smartphones, which are really tiny computers. With smartphones assuming that role today, and product development and new product timelines for the handset business being months, the molasses-slow FDA approval process has prevented similar types of technologies from emerging ... yet.

As I already noted, I absolutely hated Abbott's Freestyle test strips. I also think Abbott's claims about the world's smallest sample size is a complete lie. That leaves Roche's Accu-Check, which I must admit was the very first meter brand I ever used back in the mid-1980s when self-monitoring blood glucose meters were still brand new. When it comes to advertising that brand, I'm not sure the patriotism theme in their advertising really speaks to me, even if they are the only strips still made in the U.S. because Roche is actually a Swiss company. I cannot document all of the corporate ownership changes for the Accu-Check brand over the years, but I seem to recall the Accu-Check brand when I first began using it belonging to a German company named something like Boehringer Mannheim (or maybe it was Boehringer Ingelheim) at the time, not Roche, but for all I knew, that might have simply been a U.S. distribution partner.

At this point, I really just need a compelling reason to switch brands. Truthfully, the mere fact that the Bayer has Nick Jonas' endorsing the product works against them in my opinion, because I view as a tween boy-band largely merchandised by Disney's Robert Iger, yet to be proven without the Disney dollars behind him as celebrity endorsements which really don't work in medical devices. Nick Jonas talking about Bayer's "Simple Wins" campaign simply doesn't speak to me. Ironically, Bayer isn't using the Disney-created type 1 tween to promote the Contour USB. From what I can tell from Bernard Farrell's review of the Contour USB meter, the initial target audience was twenty-somethings, and I don't really think that age group is the prime audience for the Disney Channel's JONAS show either, so they abandoned the celebrity pitch for the Contour USB meter.

Smart Advertising for Contour USB

I actually think Bayer's advertising for this meter is actually quite slick -- it's suggestive (the woman in this ad's face isn't even visible!) without being as overtly sexual as, say, commercials for certain shampoo brands are (anyone seen commercials for Clairol's Herbal Essences?). I can't really say this ad is gender-neutral, as I don't know if it's going to appeal directly to women (or gay guys for that matter), but I think everyone can see an ad that's smart and creative. By comparison, most ads for testing supplies today is either offensive (pain-free?), irrelevant, stupid or some combination of all these things. My one complaint: why must meter companies ALWAYS feature non-diabetic readings in their ads? After all, someone without diabetes has no need for these devices, so let's see a reading of 363 mg/dL or 45 mg/dL in the ads for a change (catch my previous diatribe on that subject here). But you can catch the smarter commercial spots now running for Bayer's Contour USB meter here:

Bayer Contour USB's Features

For some basic background, I won't attempt to cover the all of the basics because others do that much better than I do, and I'm still testing it. Bennet from YDMV first broke news about this new meter here. Fellow D-Blogger Bernard Farrell whose focus is on diabetes technology does a really great job reviewing it with more details on, well ... details on the meter, so do catch his post here for more ... details! Another writer, this one The Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg wrote about it in December 2009 here and even better, did a video which you can catch right here:

Diabetes bloggers from around the world have written about this new device, too. For example, one Swedish blogger I follow wrote about it here and here, and thanks to my speedy Google Chrome browser and a built-in "extension" application, all I have to do is push a button to provide instant Swedish-to-English translations. For those of you who don't have that technology installed, fear not, just visit Google Translate at and then enter the blog posting URL (such as and then select translate FROM Swedish TO English, press the translate button, and voila -- a functional (although not perfect) translation (note: it cannot translate photos or words in images).

My Meter Function Desires

My needs and desires for a meter are actually pretty simple. The Contour strips are code-free, meaning there's no need calibration code with each new container of strips. That's nice, but not a huge deal for me, but collectively, these little things add up, in my humble opinion. I really want a fast meter that uses a small sample I can see being drawn into the test strip -- Bayer's Contour does fine on that. I have always wanted a small sized meter that fits into my pocket, not some clunky device that takes up more space than a cell phone. I also want mega-memory (supposedly, you can also use the Contour USB as a flash drive as well), and the ability to download results to my computer, not some clunky proprietary software program like Johnson & Johnson's horrendous One Touch software, or having to buy some stupid $40 cable to download the results. Ideally, I'd like the ability to import the results into a more open-format software, such as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (or Open Office's Calc program, Google Docs Spreadsheets, and similar programs), SugarStats or some of the other innovative tracking programs written by people WITH diabetes. I also appreciate not having some weird kind battery that has to be found in a place that carries 200 different battery varieties for hearing aids and the like. On that score, the fact that Contour USB is rechargeable from either a wall-outlet OR a USB port on a PC, so it does great on that.

I'm less enthused with the pre-designed graphs and the other "diabetes" management functions that aren't unique to Bayer's software; I'll do them myself if I can easily import the raw data into a much more dynamic program. Down with proprietary data formats -- let's have comma separated values that any program can read from! Some people find the ability to code each meter reading with "pre-meal", "post-meal", or some other tags -- but I like the ability to skip this coding if I choose, because not every test is event-driven, and some programs force you to enter a value when there isn't one (J&J's program does this, for example). Sometimes I test because I think it might be running high or low, but that doesn't mean it's pre-meal or post-meal. Assigning event codes to test results based on time of day is another no-no that serves little purpose and should have the option to be non-coded. Bayer's software does let the user create their own notes which could double as event codes, if only they could be entered that way. I am still finding the Bayer Contour USB menus a little bit clumsy to use after only a few days, but with time, I'll have those down so I can do them in my sleep. The documentation for this meter is also very verbose and features few graphics to make it easier to read through.

Another feature I LOVE: this meter does have a light similar to Abbott's Freestyle Flash meter, that illuminates the test strip itself if you're in a poorly-lit area (e.g. a movie theater, or if you're in bed at night and don't want to wake your partner by turning the lights on). I've borrowed the following photo from Bernard Farrel to demonstrate this feature, because it's one I really liked in the Freestyle Flash meter, but the other brands seem busier selling pink and purple colored-meters!

You know how tough it can be to get the strip into the meter and a sample on the strip; I often use my cell phone to light the meter up if I want to test at a movie theater. To operate this function, you click the power button at the top of the meter (it's not visible in these photos) twice before inserting the test strip, and then the area to insert the strip lights up. I couldn't find this function in the manual, although I'm not sure in what section it might appear, so it may be there someplace. But I like the attention to details, which suggests that Bayer may be the market share under-dog, but aims to grab share from the current leader: Johnson & Johnson.

I Think I'll Be Kissing Johnson & Johnson's One Touch Goodbye!

Based on my initial trial, I think I'm going to bid adios to Johnson & Johnson's One Touch Ultra family of testing supplies. I'll have to buy a few backup meters consisting of the regular Bayer Contour meters, and Bayer does offer online coupons for those (they SHOULD). I'll also have to exhaust my supply of One Touch Ultra strips, and I have about 90 days worth to use up, but I think this new product looks like a winner!


Bennet said...

Happy Birthday Scott (OK late but I hope that best wishes are something none of us get too old for)

Thanks for the write up and the review of the marketing programs. I guess if the products are essentially the same the manufacturers are left with little to sell differentiate their products. I think this meter does a great job of finding something different than the pack. When I say different I don’t mean actually accurately different because it is the same old strip. +/- 20

The form factor is great. Screen is very nice and like you point out no stupid 40 cable. I did get a lot of comments about the software in the USB meter not working with various operation systems (Mac 10.6 and Windows 7) that I didn’t try to verify.

USB is nice but I would really like to see Bluetooth to a phone. Any phone. And come to think of it I would like to use WaveSense strips in that Bluetooth set up.

All the best.

joakim said...

Jaa det tror jag med! Absolut!
Bayer mätaren är grymt bra asså, har den!

Kassie said...

Happy Birthday and congrats on the new meter! I love my contour USB!

(ok, funny, my wordverification word is "rocher", but I'm not a "rocher" I'm a "bayerer"!)

Bernard said...

Hi Scott and happy birthday. Thanks for the callout on my blog post/photo. And thank you also for the detailed and informative post.

I'm on the fence about this meter. I'm still using a WaveSmith Jazz, even though the copays are much higher for the strips. Bayer would have to convince me that their accuracy at least meets that of the WaveSmith line before I'd change.

Happy Birthday!

Scott said...

Thanks for the birthday greetings, everyone! Bernard, you're absolutely right, I think the WaveSense meter technology is hands down the best, but I cannot even order it from my supplier, they don't even carry it. From my perspective, Bayer's meters and technology is equal to J&J Lifescan One Touch Ultra and they deliver it in a nicer package. I am very optimistic that the Sanofi Aventis deal will get the WaveSense products to far more people, maybe even my archaic insurance company's suppliers!

Scott K. Johnson said...

Happy belated birthday Scott! Sorry I'm so late in reading and commenting (seems that is my new normal lately).

Jack Freund said...

Maybe its just me, but I switched to this meter about two weeks ago and I am burning through strips. About every other time I test, I burn about 3-5 strips with not enough blood errors. And it sucks when you've ran out of fingers to lance...


Anonymous said...

Hi Scott,
have you figured how to read/extract the raw data from the device?


John said...

Per Wavesense, I've run a side-by-
side comparison between the Jazz &
Presto (150 tests), & found no diff
erence worth mentioning, so used the
Presto until recently, when Walmart
(locally?) quit carrying the strips.

Presto blew the doors off my older
Accu-Chek (I take insulin, & hypos
became a thing of the past :)...

I called Roche to gripe about lousy
accuracy & they sent a new Aviva,
which seems to hold its own with
the Wavesense meters - Since I can
get mostly free strips from the VA
that's what I'm doing for now...

FWIW, Jack