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The Role of Insulin Pumps in Diabetes Treatment

Insulin pump

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes involve complications with the body’s production of insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that converts sugar into energy. People living with type 1 diabetes do not produce any insulin at all, so they have to take insulin every day to keep their blood sugar levels in a healthy range.

Insulin therapy may also play a role in managing type 2 diabetes, since individuals with the condition do not produce a sufficient amount of insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. However, some individuals with early-stage type 2 diabetes are able to manage their blood sugar with other medications and healthy lifestyle habits — make sure to consult with your doctor on the best course of treatment given your needs.

There are several methods available for delivering insulin into the body, including syringes,  insulin pumps, and pens. Insulin pumps have become increasingly widespread in diabetes treatment in recent years due to their convenience and ease of use.

There are a variety of insulin pump options to choose from. Read on for more information about these devices.

What is an insulin pump and how does it work?

An insulin pump is a small electronic device that delivers doses of insulin at specific times. It mimics the activities of a normally functioning pancreas by delivering small, continuous doses of insulin throughout the day and surges of insulin while you eat. You set the schedule, and it is easy to make adjustments if your dosage changes or if you eat or exercise more than usual on any given day.

While an insulin pump’s consistent delivery of insulin is effective in keeping your blood sugar levels within a healthy range, it is still important to check your blood sugar throughout the day using either a blood glucose meter or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Some newer insulin pumps are connected to a CGM, which allows for both automated glucose monitoring and insulin delivery.

Common features of insulin pumps

Many people who use insulin pumps find them to be more convenient than insulin injections, particularly while on the go. Insulin pumps offer the flexibility to work, socialize, or engage in just about any other activity without stepping aside to give yourself an insulin injection. And their automated, adjustable delivery makes it simple to maintain healthy blood sugar levels: not only do you not have to worry about missing a dose, but you can easily add, remove or modify a dose depending on your calorie intake and level of physical activity.

Most insulin pumps are designed to store dosing data, so you and your doctor’s office will have easy access to details about your insulin regimen should you need to make any adjustments to your treatment plan. 

Depending on the type of insulin pump you have, the device may be able to streamline other aspects of diabetes management. In addition to the automated blood sugar readings offered by CGM-connected pumps, some pumps have tools to help with carbohydrate counting. (Monitoring how many carbohydrates you consume is an important aspect of diabetes management as they increase your blood sugar, and your daily insulin dosage depends on your insulin-to-carb ratio.)

Insulin pumps deliver very precise doses of insulin, so there is a low risk of complications. However, it’s important to make sure you know how to properly set up your pump and to continually monitor your blood sugar levels. Your doctor or a diabetes educator can help you get started.

Who should use an insulin pump?

Choosing between an insulin pump and other delivery methods is ultimately a matter of personal preference, but they are often a good fit for children and anyone who has had difficulty remembering the timing of their insulin injections. You may also want to consider using an insulin pump if you absorb food slowly or if you often experience low blood sugar as a result of insulin use (also referred to as an insulin reaction or hypoglycemia). Consult with your doctor to choose the best insulin delivery method for your individual health needs.

Many women who are pregnant or trying to conceive also benefit from the consistent and precise delivery of an insulin pump, as blood sugar management is especially critical while your baby’s major organs develop. If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, you may want to ask your doctor if an insulin pump is right for you.

Types of insulin pumps

There are two main types of insulin pumps: tubed insulin pumps (sometimes referred to as traditional insulin pumps) and insulin patch pumps. Tubed insulin pumps deliver insulin from a delivery chamber — in this case a container located within the pump — into a tube inserted beneath your skin, usually on the abdomen. (A healthcare professional like your doctor or a diabetes educator can show you how to insert the tubing.) Manufacturers of commonly used tubed insulin pumps include Medtronic and Tandem®.

Insulin patch pumps combine the delivery chamber and tube into a single “pod” placed on your skin with an adhesive patch. Insulin patch pumps do not have any external tubing and are controlled wirelessly. Commonly used patch pumps include Omnipod® and V-Go®.

You can put a tubed insulin pump in your pocket, on your belt, or attach it to a strap beneath your clothes. Insulin patch pumps are most commonly placed directly on your stomach or arm. Both types of insulin pumps require you to change the tubing or pods every one to three days. A diabetes educator or healthcare provider can answer any questions and help you become more comfortable using the device.

What to consider when deciding to use an insulin pump

When talking to your doctor, here are some considerations that may help you determine if an insulin pump is the most convenient way to manage your blood sugar, or your child’s.

  • An insulin pump may feel slightly more complex than injections, as it involves frequent interactions with technology. Your diabetes care team can help you become more comfortable with the device.
  • You will need to verify which type of pump(s) your insurance plan covers and decide if those options are the right fit for your needs and budget.
  • Whether you go with a tubed or patch pump, you’ll have an electronic device attached to your skin, which may take some getting used to. There are lots of ways to make them less visible, if that’s a concern.

If you’re still unsure, remember that you’re allowed to change your mind! While insulin pumps are most commonly used on a continuous basis, the device is not permanently attached to your body, and some people switch to injections for certain periods of time. 

For example, some children with diabetes may use an insulin pump during the school year but take insulin via injections during the summer. There is room for flexibility as long as you discuss your plan with a healthcare professional and follow their recommendations.

Insurance coverage of insulin pumps

Most insurance plans have separate medical and pharmacy benefits. In most cases, professional services provided by your doctor will fall under medical benefits while prescription diabetes medications — including insulin — will fall under pharmacy benefits. 

Pumps, CGMs, and supplies like test strips will likely be covered under a third type of benefits: the Durable Medical equipment (DME) section of your policy. There may be restrictions on the brands or suppliers that are available, and it’s important to check with your specific policy to understand what will be covered and under which sections.

Tubeless patch pumps like Omnipod® and V-Go® are often covered with your pharmacy benefits. If that’s the case, Alto may be able to help you get started with your insulin pump. We will work with your insurance (if applicable) and any third party savings programs so that you can get your insulin pump at the lowest possible price.

A diabetes pharmacy partner you can rely on

At Alto, we believe a pharmacy should be a partner in your diabetes care. We have a dedicated diabetes support team to ensure that you have everything you need to follow through on your individualized treatment plan. Reach out any time via text or phone at 1-800-874-5881, or in-app messaging.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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