Why is it so Difficult to Order Life-Saving Medical Supplies?

When it comes to obtaining my diabetes supplies – life-saving pieces of medical equipment – I’ve discovered that it’s not a simple process. It’s not exactly like purchasing something on Amazon with a single click. Rather, it’s a convoluted, head-scratching, infuriatingly long procedure that apparently involves multiple calls to a variety of companies.

As of this writing, it took approximately 4 calls to my endocrinologist’s office, 12-14 calls to Insulet (the maker of my OmniPod insulin pump), 6 or 7 calls to Dexcom (for my CGM supplies), 2 calls to my health insurance provider, and 1 call to Express Scripts just to get everything all straightened away. These calls took place over the course of 2.5 months, and as they grew in frequency, so did my overall frustration and confusion.

The biggest headache was definitely caused by the lack of effective communication between Insulet and my endocrinologist’s office. I needed to get a new PDM, and Insulet’s job was to contact my doctor’s office and get a letter of medical necessity in order to get a PDM shipped out to me. Simple, right?

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My call log looked like this for several days in July – so many phone calls to Insulet/OmniPod and to my doctor.

Far from it. About a week after I placed the order for the new PDM, I got an email from Insulet saying that my doctor’s office had failed to return their faxes. I was advised to contact them to determine the delay. When I did, I spoke with a receptionist who, despite my clear explanation of the issue, misunderstood what I was asking for and left me a voicemail to say that she didn’t know what Insulet was talking about seeing as their information showed that I had received a shipment from them. (For whatever reason, she thought I needed more pods, which I did have delivered around the same time that all of this was going on.)

After several more back-and-forth phone calls, I cracked the case wide open: Insulet had the wrong contact information for my doctor. While my endocrinologist hasn’t changed in about a decade, her office location has, and Insulet still had the old one. I felt like an idiot for not realizing this sooner, but then again…why was I the one who was jumping through so many hoops and making so many contact attempts in order to figure out what the hold-up was? It was absolutely ridiculous, but I certainly felt relieved – and satisfied – to have personally solved the mystery.

I wish I could say I had a better experience with Dexcom, but that proved to be similarly headache-inducing. I thought that I was set to receive my supplies after I’d signed a payment plan for a 90-day supply of sensors and transmitters, but when they didn’t show up after a month of waiting, I knew something was wrong. I called Dexcom and discovered that the order, for reasons unknown, just didn’t process, so I had to sign a brand-new payment plan and had my case assigned to a different customer service rep. I was pretty pissed off by the lack of communication, but the one silver lining was that I’d already managed to pay my deductible in full (ha, no surprises there), so my Dexcom supply order would cost me less. Again, it was unbelievable that I never got an update from the company regarding my order’s status, but I did feel a sting of pride in myself for getting it all worked out on my own.

I don’t know why everything about this process is so agonizing. But what I do know for sure is that it seems that the only person I can count on to get my supplies ordered properly, in the end, is myself.

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Memory Monday: The Shattered Insulin Vial

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…the insulin vial that my mother and I accidentally broke in the bathroom of a restaurant, many years ago. R.I.P., tiny vial of Humalog.

This goes back to the days of having to scurry off to the restroom soon after ordering our meals to check blood sugars and inject insulin. And it was a pain. We wanted to be considerate of other diners around us in the restaurant, so doing our diabetes things at the table wasn’t an option. That left us with the most logical choice, the bathroom.

On the night of the broken vial, we were having dinner at a local restaurant. Once our dinner orders were placed, we headed off to complete our routine. And it went just as expected: We knew our blood sugar levels and did the mental math necessary for figuring out our insulin intakes. If memory serves correctly, I was still at an age where I wasn’t totally comfortable with injecting myself yet and would ask my parents to help me whenever we were in a public place (I felt better about self-injecting at home, my literal comfort zone). So my mom ushered me into a stall and went about filling her syringe, then mine. Soon after she stuck me with the needle, it happened…the vial fell. I don’t know if it was my hand or her elbow that knocked it off from its perch, but something caused it to tumble down to meet its end.

Capture

 

It was a dramatic moment. If a slo-mo camera had captured the ordeal, I’m sure it would’ve shown my mother and I donning identical, horrified expressions as the vial smashed into smithereens on the tiled bathroom floor.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t the end of the world; after all, we’d just taken our shots before the incident, and the vial wasn’t completely full. But it was just full enough that we were upset about all the wasted insulin that formed a small puddle on the floor.

I remember my mom gingerly picking up the pieces of the fractured vial and disposing of them, sighing as she went about the task. That whole experience resulted in a few things. 1) We made sure to get a vial protector soon after it happened to help cushion future insulin vials that were accidentally dropped and 2) We got insulin pens a bit further down the road, which proved to be much more durable and portable than vials. In fact, they made it so we could do injections at the dinner table, in the car, and just about anywhere with ease and discretion.

But this incident remains etched in my memory because it instilled always being careful with my diabetes supplies from that moment on. All of my diabetes stuff is expensive and extremely precious because of what it does for me, my mom, and millions of other people on a daily basis – it’s got to be treated carefully, always.

Dexcom Delivered When I Needed it Most

Last week, I received not one, not two, but FIVE packages in the mail. No, I didn’t go overboard with some online shopping – it was all deliveries from Dexcom to help me get my CGM up and running again.

You might be wondering: Why were there so many packages? In theory, I just needed a couple of replacement sensors and a new transmitter – couldn’t it all go in one box? Well, I wound up getting a little more than just the aforementioned supplies…

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Not pictured: another two boxes I received from Dexcom. Not sure why they couldn’t send everything in one large box, but beggars can’t be choosers.

That’s because I had the stupendously (emphasis on the STUPID-sounding part of that word) great idea to power up my old G5 CGM while I waited for my G6 materials. I had a few G5 sensors leftover from before I made the transition to the G6, and to my knowledge, I had a working G5 transmitter. So I followed the procedure to get my G5 going: I inserted a G5 sensor (ouch!), snapped the transmitter into place, and started the warm-up on my G5 transmitter.

But something was…off. The Bluetooth icon was blinking in the upper left-hand corner, and I couldn’t see how much time had elapsed in the two-hour warm-up period. At a loss as to what to do next, I left the receiver on overnight to see if it would ever pick up a signal from my G5 sensor/transmitter, to no avail.

That’s when I made the “fatal error” of shutting the system down and trying to restart it. This triggered the G5 receiver to enter a reboot cycle that wouldn’t stop. Any time I pressed the circular home button, the system would buzz and the screen would light up, as if it was about to start working. After 45 seconds or so, the screen would go black again. There was no way to interrupt this reboot loop – even sticking a paper clip into the tiny hole in the back of the receiver wouldn’t correct the faulty software.

So now, not only was my G6 out of commission, but my G5 was a goner, too.

After a few phone calls to Dexcom technical support, I had answers as well as supplies sent my way. I learned that there’s a known error with the G5 system that causes the reboot cycle to launch. I should have waited longer for the G5 transmitter to connect with the Bluetooth on my receiver (i.e., I should’ve waited for the Bluetooth icon to stop blinking), but it wasn’t necessarily my fault for having a device with a known software issue. I would receive a new G5 receiver because my old one was still under warranty, as well as a G5 replacement sensor. I would NOT get a G5 transmitter, because I’m convinced the battery on the current one is still good, but I was informed that once a transmitter is activated, the battery keeps going until it runs out of juice. Interesting. That means that it could, in theory, stop working any day now, because the transmitter was activated and last used in April 2018.

Hopefully, I’ll never have to get another G5 transmitter because I’ll be able to rely on my G6 from here on out. It gives me comfort to know I have backup G5 supplies, but I’m pretty much married to my G6 at this point. Dexcom kindly sent me the required new transmitter for the G6 system, which arrived on Thursday of last week. I got a return kit for the old G6 transmitter the previous day, and on Friday, my new sensors came in along with a return kit for my defunct G5 receiver.

Sure, it was a lot of packages to sort through in the mail. And it was mildly frustrating that I had to wait two days between getting my new G6 transmitter and compatible sensors. But the most important thing is that I’m now reconnected to my G6 and feeling thankful that Dexcom delivered when I needed it most.

 

Keep or Toss? Decluttering my Diabetes Supplies Stash

Warning: The following image may be disturbing to anyone adverse to messiness and general disorder.

Viewer discretion is advised!

Okay, ready? Here it is…

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My extremely disorganized diabetes supplies stash evokes a one-word reaction: Yikes!!!

I told you it wasn’t pretty. Hence, I took it upon myself the other night to go through my entire stash of diabetes supplies to see what I should keep and what I should toss.

It was much easier than I thought it would be, albeit time consuming. It was a matter of putting the supplies into two separate piles (keep or toss), and then putting them away in a manner that made sense.

Items that wound up in the “discard” pile included expired test strips, duplicate instruction manuals, product boxes (which were empty; therefore, merely taking up space), old batteries, and used CGM transmitters. I decided to keep three or four spare test kits (you never know when they’ll come in handy), extra chargers, single copies of instruction manuals for all of my devices, all unused and unexpired pods/sensors, and that lava lamp – because it’s groovy, duh!

Once I had my two piles, I threw out the bunch I wasn’t keeping – freeing up my work space – and sorted through the items I was keeping. I wanted to make sure that items I need access to regularly (such as my pods and sensors) were within reach, so I left my box of pods on top of one set of drawers, and put my sensors in a stack in the front top part of the other set of drawers. Everything else, like the manuals and spare test kits, were placed neatly in the first and second parts of the bigger set of drawers.

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Ahh…much better! (Don’t mind the Harry Potter mugs)

And…voila! Just like that, my supplies were organized and I’m feeling great about it. I like knowing the exact location of all my diabetes materials. This way, I won’t be rifling through a haphazard heap when I’m looking for something in particular – it’ll just be a matter of sorting through my tidy supplies stash.