Price. Most insulin pumps cost about $5,000–$6,000. The disposable OmniPod pump costs less up front, but the long-term cost is similar to the others; the Asante Snap costs about $700.
Warranty and customer support. All pumps have a 4-year warranty and excellent 24/7 toll-free support. All pump manufacturers will replace your equipment for free, typically via overnight mail, in the event of a malfunction.
Safety features. All pumps have sensors to detect blockages in the tubing, a low battery, a low insulin level, and any internal problems with the pump itself. All can be “locked” to prevent accidental programming by young or irresponsible pump users. All have multiple systems to prevent accidental over-delivery of insulin, as well as an automatic pump shut-off and an alarm in the event that no buttons are pushed for an extended period of time.
Ease of use. All pumps use onscreen menus and are relatively simple to program. Filling the reservoir (the component of the pump that holds the insulin) and priming the infusion set tubing (filling the tubing with insulin before the infusion set is attached to the body) are tasks that are easily achievable by most people.
Training. The purchase price of all pumps includes comprehensive technical training and a limited amount of as-needed diabetes self-management education.
Small size. All pumps are small and lightweight, about the size of a modern cell phone. The disposable OmniPod pump is somewhat smaller but requires a separate, handheld programmer.
Computer connection. Data from most pumps can be uploaded to a PC for viewing settings and history. Some pumps allow two-way communication for making changes to pump settings.
Power. Most pumps use AA or AAA batteries, which last an average of two to four weeks. Some use lithium batteries, which can last two to three times as long.
Basal features. All pumps permit the user to vary the basal settings (to the nearest 20th of a unit per hour, or less) and enter multiple basal programs. Temporary basal overrides may also be used.
Prolonged bolus delivery. All pumps can deliver mealtime bolus doses all at once or over an extended period of time for foods that are digested slowly.
Backlight. All pumps have a lighted screen.
Programmable reminders. All have optional programmable reminder features to alert the user to check blood glucose at certain times of day or following each bolus dose.
Memory. All pumps store a substantial amount of data regarding boluses delivered, daily insulin totals, and alerts or error messages.
Bolus calculator. All pumps have an optional “bolus calculation” feature that helps the user determine proper bolus amounts based on carbohydrate intake, blood glucose levels, and insulin that is still working from previous boluses.
Some pump companies promote subtle differences in these common features and claim that this gives their pump a “competitive edge.” Typically, these minute differences have almost no significance at all. For example, a pump that offers up to 48 different basal time segments has no advantage over one that offers 24 or 12, since people rarely need more than four or five different basal segments in their 24-hour program. Allowing the user to set up four completely different basal programs is not a major advantage, since few people use more than one (and very few use more than two). A bolus history that holds hundreds of data points is really no better than one that holds a few dozen, since most people rarely look back more than a couple of days. In other words, not every “unique” or “special” feature provides tangible benefits to you, the user.
So which features are really important? Having trained, educated, and counseled more than a thousand people on insulin pump therapy, I have learned that some pumps have attributes that make them better matches for certain individuals.