Knowing your blood glucose number is considered a vital component to successfully managing one’s diabetes. Regular glucose checks can identify patterns and the influence of choices made. Glucose monitoring can also reveal the outcome of daily activity levels and stress.


While your diabetes care team may suggest the recommended glucose fingerstick frequency and timing, the actual blood glucose system may be decided by the patient. Things to keep in mind when choosing a blood glucose meter:


Does your insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid have a “preferred” meter? Most third-party payer systems do have a preference for certain medical devices and a schedule for how often they will provide a new device. Never be afraid to ask these questions — it matters. If you select a preferred medical device, the payer will pay all or more toward the purchase price and future supplies. Additionally, going through that third party payer’s mail order service pays even better. Mail order pharmacies and medical suppliers have come a long way at making the process easier and provide reminders for reorders. Begin by calling your payer’s customer service line and ask how to get started.


Are there features about the blood glucose meter you really like or dislike? Don’t hesitate to call a company’s 1-800 number to discuss the features and how they work. Be sure to know exactly what you’re getting with the meter also — does it include control solution, a lancing device, and a carrying case? Most glucose meters do come with these items but some don’t. Ask. If you have a choice of lancing devices, do your homework on this also. If you have internet access you can look all this information up on-line. Memory and the ability to share data could be an important feature if you elect to participate in telehealth medical visits.


Remember to ask about the consumable supplies. A blood glucose meter is an occasional purchase. Blood glucose strips, lancets for the lancing device, and control solution are a recurring expense. Ask about supply refills. Know how many glucose strips and lancets come with a refill. It’s okay to ask a third party payer if there’s a maximum limit of supplies they will cover per prescription. If you find yourself having more months than glucose strips, ask your healthcare provider for a prescription for a greater quantity.

Once you have the blood glucose meter, lancing device, lancets, and glucose strips, remember these few simple tips to improve the accuracy of your results:


Clean before you begin. Every blood glucose meter system is a little medical laboratory designed for home use. The key words here are “medical laboratory”.  Your mini-lab location may vary but a clean site prevents cross contamination from substances that can alter meter results allows you to work without fear of dropping the meter or spilling glucose strips, lancing device, or lancets on the ground.


As this lab test will involve blood, make sure you are only using blood in the test. Washing hands is a simple procedure that many people overlook or compromise on. If you have a sweet residue on your fingers and you handle the strips or perform a fingerstick, that same sweet residue — regardless of source — could produce false glucose meter results. Similarly, if the hands are wet, the water could alter the blood concentration and produce false glucose results. Wash your hands with soap and water, rinse well with plain water, and dry thoroughly.


Alcohol or hand-sanitizing gel. Go to a medical lab and they will most likely use an alcohol prep to clean the collection. You should know that alcohol prep pads are convenient and more time-efficient than having a patient go to a wash basin to scrub up and dry hands. Keep this in mind when you consider an alcohol prep: there’s nothing magical about them and they can be an unnecessary expense. If you’re at home wash your hands with soap and water then dry thoroughly with a clean towel before a glucose check. If you’re traveling and an alcohol prep fits the travel itinerary better, I get it, it’s not a problem. Remember to allow the finger to dry completely after the alcohol prep and wipe the first drop of blood from the finger with a clean cloth before applying the next drop of blood to the glucose strip.


Over the last year hand-sanitizing gel has been the go-to for many seeking protection from viruses of all types. While hand-sanitizing gel may kill germs, it leaves a layer of gelatinous alcohol behind that can interfere with blood glucose testing. So, no, it’s not a substitute for good old fashion soap and water . . . and, yes, it’s actually worse than using alcohol as many hand-sanitizers also include skin softening agents that could interfere with glucose meter results.


Quality in gives quality back. Unless glucose strips are individually foil sealed from the factory, those strips are meant to stay in the test strip container until the glucose check time. Blood glucose strips are hydrophilic, that is the strips attract moisture: blood, alcohol, water, rain, steam, humidity, etc. Removing strips from the plastic container for more than a short period of time will ruin them. You may think that the strips still work after being securely zipped up in the carrying case, but, no, the results cannot be trusted to be accurate. The best advice is to avoid this practice.


While you’re at it, check the expiration date on the side of the glucose strip container. Blood glucose strips age over time and don’t work as well. If the strips are past their expiration date, sometimes the meter will not allow the glucose check to be performed. Some meters may allow the glucose check to be performed, but you absolutely cannot trust the results to be accurate. Again, the best advice is to avoid using expired strips.


Keep in mind the blood glucose meter is a tiny laboratory. Environmental control is important. If you’re hot, the meter is hot. If you’re freezing, the meter is freezing. Don’t leave medical devices in the car, in the middle of a parking lot when it’s 110 degrees in the shade. Some meters will stop working in extreme conditions. Sometimes the electronic connections will expand and contract leading to small breaks inside the meter causing the meter to stop working properly if it works at all.


Blood glucose monitoring begins with a stick of the finger for a drop of blood. This is done with a lancet. Lancets are small needles that are used to prick the skin to obtain a blood sample. Lancets fit into a lancing device. A lancing device provides a controlled lancet penetration depth of the finger making the “stick” less painful. Lancing devices have adjustments to control how deep they penetrate based on the texture / thickness of the skin. Children usually use the lowest penetration depth ; people who work with their hands may need a deeper penetration depth to go through rough skin. The deeper the penetration the more likely the discomfort. One of the truly great things about blood glucose meters today is the amount of blood required is small. There is no need to stick deeper than necessary for a blood sample. There’s no way to keep from sticking deeper than necessary unless you have the assistance of a lancing device.


Stay in Control. Last but certainly not least is to know when to check the accuracy of the blood glucose meter with control solution. Most meters will include a little bottle of control solution with recommendations of when and how to use. The control solution has an expiration date also. The control solution is used with a new glucose strip just like a blood glucose check but instead of applying blood to the strip, you apply the control solution. The side of the control solution should provide an explanation of a valid control solution result.


Errors sometimes occur making glucose results confusing. If the glucose meter result doesn’t seem to agree with the way you feel, such as the meter indicates a low or extremely high result when you feel your glucose is the opposite, check the glucose again keeping the above recommendations in mind. It may be a careless mistake or it may be time for a new glucose meter. If the meter is still in warranty, call the customer service line for support. Glucose manufacturers want satisfied customers. If it’s determined the meter is indeed the issue, most companies will provide a replacement at no cost. If the meter is out of warranty, reach out to your healthcare team and/or your third party payer for assistance. Remember: it’s hard to know which way to go if you have no idea where you are. Check your glucose and proceed with the knowledge that you are in control.