How to choose an insulin pump

Most insulin pumps have the same basic features:

  • The ability to program more than one basal rate: for example, a rate for work days, a rate for days off, a rate for working the night shift.
  • The ability to set a temporary basal rate: for example, you can tell your pump to give you less insulin while you go for a jog.
  • Several meal bolus options. (A bolus is an extra amount of insulin.)
  • Basic safety features, including alarms that tell you if your insulin is not moving through your catheter correctly.
  • The ability to "remember" how much insulin you have used for both your basal rate and your meal boluses.

Insulin companies also offer other features. Some will matter to you more than others. It depends on your lifestyle. Questions you may want to ask include:

  • How the pump works
    • How much insulin does the pump hold?
    • How many seconds does it take to deliver a unit of insulin?
    • Is the pump's "maximum bolus" big enough for your needs?
    • Is the lock that connects the tubing to the pump a standard one so that you will be able to use different brands of infusion sets? Or will you have to use the infusion sets made by your pump company?
    • Does the pump use batteries that are easy to buy?
  • Extra features
    • How fancy is the software that comes with the pump? Do you want to program your pump using your home computer? Or do you want to create your own database of how much carbohydrate your foods contain?
    • Does the pump come with a remote control so that you can give yourself a bolus without touching the pump?
    • Does the pump include a meal bolus calculator?
    • Are there extra alarms you can set to wake you up or remind you to test your blood sugar?
    • Is there a lock-out feature so that your child can't play with the buttons?
    • Is it water-resistant or waterproof?
    • Will the pump company file your insurance claim for you?
    • Will the pump company upgrade your pump at a discount when newer technology is available?
    • Can you purchase prefilled insulin cartridges for your pump? Some people find this easier than filling their own cartridges and trying to keep air out of the tube.

At least one company sells a pump that has no plastic tubing. The pump and the needle are together in one small device that is taped to your skin. When it's time to change your infusion set, you replace the whole thing, pump and all.

Depending on your insurance company, your choices may be limited. You could still get a pump that is not covered by your insurance, but you may have to pay for it yourself. Insulin pumps cost thousands of dollars. And the daily supplies that you need are also very expensive. Without insurance coverage, you may not be able to afford an insulin pump.

A bright future

One of the biggest advances recently is insulin pumps and glucose monitors that can "talk" to each other. Some continuous glucose monitors can be left in place for 2 or 3 days, constantly sending your glucose levels to your pump. These monitors are not yet able to tell the pump how much insulin to deliver, but that day is getting closer. Your glucose monitor will one day be able to run your insulin pump on its own.

Last Updated: October 3, 2008

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