Thursday, May 3, 2012

Smaller, Sexier, and Funky Fresh.

It was a harrowing drive home from the airport Tuesday night, as things quickly progressed from "Wow, that'a a lot of lightning" to "And there's the rain they were talking about" to "Crap, is that... hail? Oh HAIL no" to "OH #&*! I CAN'T SEE THE ROAD". It was as if I had to only think about the weather not being as severe as was expected in order for Mother Nature to be all, "Challenge accepted!" and unleash the ice cubes and break open the dam. It was very dramatic.

Wait, where was I going with this? Why was I at the airport? And why did I miss a day of work at my "real job" to fly to New Jersey for 19 hours?

Tuesday marked the U.S. launch of a new type of blood glucose meter: the iBGStar. The big deal with this little guy is that it plugs into an iPhone or Touch, and the corresponding app will track and chart your results (and allow you to email them to, say, your doctor) as well as giving you the option to log carbs and insulin. The meter is very teeny tiny (roughly the size of a flash drive), and can be used independent of your i-device, or in correlation with it.

Did you catch that? It plugs into a freaking iPhone. What is this, the future? Where is my hoverboard?

Sanofi US Diabetes brought a handful of what they dubbed "Key Online Opinion Leaders" (which creates the uncomfortable acronym "KOOL" - cringe) to their headquarters in Bridgewater, NJ to hear all about it, test drive the actual meter, and be able to ask questions directly of the people involved in the product's launch. I somehow ended up on that list, along with a few other familiar (and some, less so - to me) faces.

From L to R: Shawna Gvazdauskas, VP and Device Head US Diabetes;
Brian Dolan; Riva Greenberg; Emily Coles; Laura Kolodjeski,
Sr. Manager, Patient Solutions; Allison Blass; me; Adam Brown;
Kerri Sparling; Kelly Close. Not pictured: Leighann Calentine;
David Kliff.
Photos courtesy of Sanofi
Let me start out here by saying that my learning curve tends to be pretty steep when it comes to stuff like this. I don't consider myself an expert, journalist, industry insider, or any other official-sounding term when it comes to the diabetes world - I'm a story (over)sharer. I never paid much attention to the business side of things until the last couple of years. And even then - I'm sure I've missed a bunch.

That said, I was pretty impressed during the few hours I spent with the Sanofi team. The attitude described by Shawna Gvazdauskas is that Sanofi wants to "delight their customers": notice that she said customers, not "patients". (That kind of thoughtful word choice was apparent throughout the afternoon - "check" instead of "test; the omission of "good" and "bad" from the BG vocabulary; etc.) That's the reality now: most people with diabetes have more choices than ever, and pharma has to compete and exceed the expectations of end-users to keep up. This means that Sanofi is looking more and more to meet people "at their lives, not just at their disease". Give us what fits into our lives, instead of something that we then have to find a way to fit into our lives. Give us something that helps us feel better about doing something that you don't like doing in the first place.

So what might you want to know about this meter?

  • The iBGStar received FDA approval in December of last year, so why the long wait? They wanted to make sure they had the product available in multiple channels (which it is now, through places like Walgreens and Apple stores - no kidding) for people once it was released. Once that was in place, they could officially "launch" it in the U.S.
  • If you compare the kits in, say, Walgreens vs. Apple stores, you'll notice a price difference: $74.95 at Walgreens (which comes with 10 test strips) and $99.95 at Apple (which comes with 50 strips, since they don't sell the strips seperately).
  • You may also wonder, is there a case available that houses the combined device and meter? Yep, there is, and I'm told that it will be available through a loyalty program. It only comes in black at this point. (I clicked around for a while once I registered my meter and couldn't find anything about the case... this might be a "down the road" thing, so don't quote me here.)
  • Sanofi has a "Star Savings" program - this is where actually registering your meter on the iBGStar site will come in handy - which you can sign up for on their website. You can either print off the savings card or have it texted to you. (I opted for the latter - shocking to no one, likely.) Provided that you aren't using Medicare or don't live in MA, the card will get you twelve monthly refills for no more than $20 [EDIT: They are $20 refills, providing that your insurance is covering the script. If not, the card only knocks $25 off the retail price for each box. Details can be found here on how that works.] I have no idea about insurance coverage at this point, but I can tell you that our insurance provider (one of the big ones) told me yesterday that it wasn't covered yet. Bummer.
  • This meter is marketed to a very niche market, and Sanofi knows that: people with diabetes (or caregivers) who also own an iPhone or Touch. That amounts to approximately 1.6 million people in the U.S. - cool technology, but it's not available to a whole lot of people. And for those using an Android, the official word was that "other smart phones are under investigationbut [they] have nothing more to share at this time". 
  • iBGStar's test strips have a "fill window", and the meter apparently won't begin the countdown until that fill window is... well... filled. Less error messages and wasted strips? Yes, please.
  • The meter can be used independently of an i-device, and once plugged in again will "catch up" everything that's been missed into the application, once you've opened it.
  • There are no claims of superior accuracy with this meter. It's on par with most other meters out there.

I think it's a really slick little meter. Among other things, I asked about the aesthetics of the accessories that come with the meter - the test strip bottle, the lancing device - because you'll notice that while the meter may be sleek and modern, it is flanked by equipment that is decidedly not.

New hotness, right next to old and busted. (It's not really busted.
Just click the link. It will make sense.)
All told, I look forward to test driving this for a while - as well as watching the neat-o graphics that happen inside the application while the meter counts down. (I'm not telling you what they are - no spoilers!) I also look forward to seeing what else Sanofi (and others) have up their sleeves - word on the street is that there are a whole line of "Star" products in the works, as Sanofi delves deeper into the "diabetes devices" ocean.

[EDIT: Apparently, I won't be trying this out for a while - my insurance won't cover the strips yet, and unfortunately a month's worth of strips for me is about equal to a car payment. So - back to the One Touch meters after these 10 strips are gone! Bummer.]

Disclosure: Sanofi US Diabetes paid for my flights, ground transportation and hotel while I was in New Jersey, as well as some of my meals. I received an iBGStar meter at the meeting, which was mine to keep. I was not asked to write about this event.

Also, hat tip to Cherise Shockley for the title of this post. Funky fresh, indeed.


  1. Yay! I can't wait to hear what your experience is like. Funky fresh!

  2. It looks so cool! I'm a little confused about the insurance coverage part. So it's NOT covered by most insurances? If that is true I can't imagine many of those 1 1/2 million iPhone users buying the meter, even with the modern-ness of it all. But maybe I am not hip enough to waste money.

  3. Hey Dianna! That's where the savings program comes in - co-pay will be no more than $20 per month for strips using the program, regardless of insurance.

  4. Will be very interested to see how you get on with it Kim. I test drove one (well two actually) before the UK launch. I love love love everything about the device - apart from the inconsistent results it gave me :-\ Good luck with yours!

  5. The Star Savings program may have just won me over. I don't mind paying some money for the latest "accessory" for my iDevice, but I was having issues thinking about the cost of the strips. $20 seems much more manageable!

  6. Great summary, Kim. Thanks for attending and sharing your thoughts here. Sounds like an interesting meter, indeed!

  7. I am so intrigued by this. Not sure I am willing to give up the ease that the Ping Meter provides or the fact that my kids will demand iPhones rather than use their itouch. I can hear their voices now - "but then Ill have to carry my phone and my itouch" It will escape them that currently their carry their phones and their meters. Yes my kids have phones - I feel safer knowing they can call me anytime they want.
    Your summary is wonderful - I will investigate further.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. It's my understanding that the fill window doesn't actually have to be filled all the way up, you just need to see some blood in the window. When I did several tests it never filled completely and the Sanofi rep at my side said that was fine.

    (Can I get a "not pictured" mention in the caption :( Guess they took it after I had to rush to the airport. You don't really need to add me to the caption...I'm just kidding. Good to see you, wish we had had more time to actually chat!)

  10. First, I'm upset that you guys were all just twenty minutes away from my home and I didn't get to meet any of you, but I'll let that slide. I am glad to see a company like Sanofi, who've I always associated strictly with insulin, broadening their reach in the diabetes market, and specifically the diabetes TECHNOLOGY market. It's great to see a known, reputable company challenging the industry leaders like Lifescan (J&J) and Accu-Chek (Roche).

  11. Small, Sexier and Funky Fresh...I want one! Thank you for the mention *wink*

  12. I work at an Apple store, it will be interesting to see what they will have in their retail kit. I've been talking this thing up for months before it was even available, so I hope I qualify for a "Loyalty" case :-)

    Jenny Sutherland

  13. I don't expect my insurance to catch up for awhile. Maybe they'll cover Tandem & this by the time I'm due for a new pump an I can really weigh some choices. I do like the meter as pump remote of my Ping...

  14. lol @ uncomfortable acronym. KOOL indeed!

    thanks for the info, looks super sleek. i feel like going to my apple store just to check it out.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.