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Published on November 18, 2014

Insulin pumps worth asking about for anyone with diabetes

By Elliot Hughes, Lawrence Journal World reporter

As technological advancement rages on, perhaps the most common form of delivering insulin for diabetics is going out of style.

Pat Hohman, a diabetes educator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, says insulin pumps — those pager-like devices commonly affixed to a person's torso with a catheter connecting the two — may be replacing pens and syringes as the preferred insulin delivery system for children and other newly diagnosed diabetics.

And although some may not always be able to keep their pumps, depending on how their insurance situations change over time, Hohman says it's a technology that everyone affected by diabetes will soon need to be familiar with.

"It's bigger than it ever has been," she said.   

For Hohman, there's no comparison between an insulin pump — which she's used for 16 years — and the other methods. The syringe involves too long of a process to prepare. Pens, while easy to use in their own right, are like syringes in that a patient must be careful not to be separated from it. Eat a meal without one of those handy and it's going to be high blood sugar time.

A pump on the other hand, is always with you, literally attached to you, Hohman says, like an artificial pancreas.

It can pipe in insulin continuously throughout the day or just after meals. It stores data on a patient's glucose and insulin levels, sounding an alarm when insulin is in short supply or refusing to discharge more insulin when a patient has enough already. The amount of skin punctures drop to about one every three days.

"Which way would you go?" she counters, when asked which method is best. "It does provide very good control when you get it programmed properly."

Not all diabetics are into the pumps, though. Jim Chapin, 75, and Grace Beam, 78, both of Lawrence, say they are happy with their pens. The costs associated with the pumps and uncertainty that their insurance provider would cover it is what mainly turns them off.

A box of five insulin pens generally goes for around $490, while a pump can demand around $6,000, Hohman says.

"(The pumps) might be something that'd be handy, but I'm satisfied with the pens so far," Chapin said. "What I have is expensive enough."

Still, even if a patient is satisfied with a pen or syringe, Hohman believes it's worth consulting a physician or insurance provider about a pump's feasibility. Anyone who is the least bit "computer savvy" can learn how to use them, she says.

"Maybe you don't need it, but I think it's bad enough being diagnosed with diabetes," Hohman says in summation. "Why don't they deserve a pump to make it easier?"

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