Friday, 15 July 2016

LibreLink: First Impressions

My enthusiasm for the FreeStyleLibre flash glucose monitoring system is well known amongst the online diabetic community. As soon as I became aware of its existence in early 2015 (thanks entirely, it must be said, to the #gbdoc, and no thanks to any input from healthcare professionals), I immediately saw that here was a potentially massive leap forward in our ability to regulate our blood sugar levels more responsively, tightly and safely than had been possible with traditional fingerprick testing.

I have already enthused about the device in this post written soon after I started using it, moaned about the fact that I have to pay for it in this post and featured in this film made for Abbott about a busy day in my life, and how the Libre helps me to manage my condition on even the busiest of days. I even found myself travelling to Stockholm in Sweden at the start of June this year, to attend a diabetic bloggers' conference with other Libre users from around Europe. I should at this point pause to say that Abbott financed this trip for me and all the others, but with no requirement to praise the device in return. My love of the FreeStyleLibre is entirely voluntary.

I have now had the opportunity to try out the next phase in its development, namely the use of LibreLink a mobile 'phone app which allows users to replace the small scanning device which has hitherto been the partner of the sensor with their own mobile phone.

My impressions are basically very positive. LibreLink means no need to carry a scanner around. The scanner (the size of a small pre-smartphone mobile) had become another device to fret about in terms of where you keep it, how often to charge it, and how to avoid losing or damaging it - it was, in effect, like having a second mobile.

More importantly, it gives far more detail and clarity thanks to the use of a full-colour smartphone screen, and far more data thanks to the smartphone's processing power. For example, it turns green for in range and amber for out - there's also a red, but fortunately  I haven't seen much of it yet! In effect, it gives the more detailed data that previously had to be downloaded from the scanner onto a laptop or PC, notably providing a constantly updated estimated Hba1c reading. It can also be used to link with Diasend enabling the sharing of data with others, notably a healthcare team (although my own team are light years away from this sort of thing - another story altogether)

The only disadvantages I can see are minor, outweighed by the benefits, and not the fault of the app: firstly, it does rely on the quality of the phone's NFC capability, and with mine this requires a slower and more careful swipe than is needed for the FreestyleLibre scanner. Not a problem once you get used to it, and I suspect that NFC capability will advance in future phones. Secondly, of course, it depends on the phone having a battery charge, and as we all know, smartphones can drain quickly, so if you've been out and about and using the phone a lot, you might find it running out just when you need it (as far as I can tell, the app itself uses very little charge, so it will happily run on a very low battery). Thirdly, it is only available for Android phones at the moment - but that's because other platforms - notably Apple - won't allow it yet!

The first two of these drawbacks lead me to another point that is a bit fiddly but important: you can still use both the LibreLink and the scanner but they both need to be activated within 60 minutes. This means sensor first, then phone. You then have to be sure to use each one at least every 8 hours or there is a gap in data on one or the other. Both devices show identical readings in my experience so far, which is good to know.

I have found that I use the scanner at night - it's faster and quicker, and you don't have to "wake up" your phone.

Otherwise, that's it! Clearly a great advance, clearly the future, in that we are all addicted to our phones so might as well use them for monitoring as well. And like the Libre with scanner, I find people are really wowed by it, and I enjoy showing it off. Libs herself (the scanner) has just become a sort of techie teddy bear whom I keep by my bedside.

I must once again applaud Abbott for their innovation in blood glucose monitoring. It is very hard to imagine "life before Libs", and I only hope that in the near future the NHS will realise how much this device can contribute to the long and short term well being of diabetics - and save themselves some long-term cash!!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Adrian

    A few years on now, the mobile app has developed some issues:

    I've had nothing but poor service from Libre FreeStyle's customer services. I've been using the sensors for a year now and initially I saw a massive improvement in my diabetes management. Compared to finger-pricking, Libre FreeStyle seemed to be the perfect solution for me.

    I particularly enjoyed being able to use my Android phone as a reader as it has more functionality that the native FreeStyle Libre reader.

    However, when I upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S8 I started having issues with my sensors. When I called customer services I was told that the NFC on the any phone running Android 7.0 or above was too powerful and burnt-out the sensors making them unusable. When I pointed out that this wasn't mentioned on Abbot's FAQ section of their support website I was sent a free replacement sensor in the post. I was also told that the website would be updated with the information that Android 7.0 handsets currently had an issue and that customers would be made aware not to use the app to read sensors.

    Seven months on... the website still states that the app is compatible with all Android handsets running 4.0 and above. The app is still availaible in the Gogle App Store to people with handsets such as the Samsung S8 (even though Abbott should pull the listing for this app to anyone who has an unusable handset).

    Every time I inform Customer Services of the issue and that the website hasn't been corrected as promised, I am met by various levels of ineptidude. They keep trying to fob me off with free sensors instead of addressing the issue. If the fault is never going to be fixed with the mobile app, just say so. If the website needs to be updated with this small piece of copy, then just write it and publish it!

    Abbott is selling technology to manage an illness that could potentially have life or death implications for patients. Willingly not publishing correct information on the website which could lead people to "fry" their sensors within days of attaching a new one is pure negligence.

    To top it off, I keep getting promised that someone will get back to me within a couple of days to answer my specific questions but this never happens. Never. I've asked at least six times and had my compliant "escalated" by the call centre team but I keep getting ignored.

    When I complain further I'm told that I have to send a letter in writing. Having done this, I still haven't had a response! What is going on?

    I've also experienced my latest batch of sensors all developing errors within a week of being activated. Abbott send me out a new sensor each time but now there seems to be a stock problem and it could take weeks to get new sensors!

    This all seems like a massive case of negligence by Abbott on all counts. I can understand tech issues and even supply issues but the flat-out refusal to update the website with key information, update the App description on the Google Play site, get back to me by phone as promised or to respond to my complaints in writing is INEXCUSABLE.

    Diabetes is a serious condition but Abbott and its FreeStyle Libre team seem unable or unwilling to treat it as such.

    I'm willing to speak with someone from Abbott about this if they want to contact me directly, however as they have failed to respond to any previous emails or to follow-through on their call centre staff's promises to ring me back, I am highly doubtful that I'll get anything other than a cut-and-paste response on here (if anything)!

    Very disappointed in Abbott FreeStyle as a company - and that's someone who has spent £100 per month with them for a year!


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