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What to Know About Insulin Patch Pumps

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on November 11, 2022

If you have diabetes, managing and monitoring your insulin levels is an important part of your daily life. In the past, there weren’t many options available for this. But thanks to advances in medicine and technology, there are new ways for people to manage their blood sugar levels, like diabetes pump patches. Here’s what you need to know about insulin patches, including how they work and who they’re good for.

What Are Diabetes Pump Patches?

Diabetes pump patches are small digital devices that are modern alternatives to insulin injections. These computerized devices can be programmed to automatically deliver doses of insulin on a regular schedule during both the day and night. This automatic system helps ensure that your blood sugar levels stay within your target range. For the device to work properly, it needs to stay attached to your body most or all of the time.

When using a diabetes pump, you need to check your blood sugar levels at least six times a day. Many people decide to use insulin pumps because they're faster than taking the time to administer manual shots. Once you have your diabetes pump patch device programmed, it can administer both basal (baseline) and bolus (mealtime) doses. Many products also have built-in bolus calculators, which can also help make figuring out doses easier.

Who Should Use an Insulin Patch?

Both men and women of all ages can use a patch for diabetes, especially those with Type 1. Though it’s not the only option out there when it comes to managing insulin and glucose levels, anyone with diabetes can try it out. It’s not a long-term or irreversible commitment, so if you find that you don’t like it, you can go back to injections or try a different kind of insulin pump.

If you have diabetes, an insulin patch pump could be a good option for you if you have serious reactions to low blood sugar or if you lead an active lifestyle and don’t want to pause doses while you’re working out. Kids with diabetes might benefit from using an insulin pump since their doses are scheduled for them throughout the day even if they’re busy with school or other activities.

How Do Diabetes Patches Work?

There are two types of insulin pumps: the tethered pump and the patch pump. When it comes to efficiency, they both work the same, so choosing the model really comes down to preference. Currently, there are two different patch pumps that are available in the U.S. The Omnipod Insulin Management System was designed for people with Type 1 diabetes in mind, but people with Type 2 can use it too. People with Type 2 diabetes probably don’t need all of this system’s included features. The V-Go patch was designed specifically for people who have Type 2 diabetes.

Insulin pump patches are smaller and more compact than traditional pump systems. Traditional insulin pumps need to be worn on a belt or carried in your pocket. They deliver insulin through a small tube that connects from the insulin-carrying device up toward your skin. The insulin-filled chamber is about the size of a pager or small cell phone. It delivers insulin through the small tube that connects to another tiny tube, called a cannula, that goes just below your skin.

How to use a diabetes patch. The diabetes patch attaches directly to your skin, so there’s no extra tubing involved. Instead, the cannula is attached to your skin using an adhesive patch. The insulin-filled chamber and the cannula are combined together in a pod instead of being connected by thin tubing. The patch sits in your skin, either on your arm or stomach, whichever is more comfortable for you. It's controlled by a wireless controller or compatible smartphone.

Another difference between the traditional pump system and diabetes pump patches is that pump patches are disposable. For example, the V-Go system comes with a monthly kit of 30 devices and one filling device. Each day, you attach a new device that can be worn for up to 24 hours, even in water and overnight. After 24 hours, you simply throw the patch away and apply a new one. With this type of device, you need to remove and change the entire device when it alerts you to do so.

Are There Any Downsides of Using a Diabetes Patch?

As described, using a pump patch can be easy and convenient for people with diabetes to use on a daily basis. There are also very few risks or complications involved in using one. Even so, some users report that it can be a little tricky in the beginning when learning how to use an insulin pump patch. Most people train with their healthcare provider or a diabetes specialist when they are learning how to use one so that they can feel more comfortable using it independently. It’s important to use it correctly to make sure that you are getting accurate doses of insulin.

While there are several ways to wear your diabetes patch pump, some people don’t like that it can be visible to others at times. The patch is easier to wear out of sight compared to the tethered pump, but might be hard to completely hide, depending on your clothing.

How Much Does the Average Diabetes Patch Cost?

If you’re considering using an insulin pump patch, it’s important to get an idea as to how much it costs since it will cost more than traditional insulin injections. Depending on the device, an insulin patch pump can cost anywhere between $4,500 and $6,500 on average. Even with insurance, diabetes patches can be quite expensive.

It’s important to ask your medical insurance provider if insulin patch pumps are covered under your health care plan. Insurance providers may provide some types or brands of pumps but not others, so you need to have clear information. Medicare Part D covers:

  • Injectable insulin that isn’t administered with a traditional insulin pump
  • Insulin used with a disposable insulin pump
  • Some medical supplies that you need to inject insulin

Medicare Part B may cover some insulin pumps, but not disposable ones like the patch.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
American Diabetes Association: “Who Should Use a Pump.”
Beyond Type 2: “Insulin Delivery Methods.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Insulin Pumps.”
Diabetes UK: “Insulin Pumps.”
The diaTribe Foundation: “Insulin Pumps.”
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: “Insulin pumps.”
Medicare.gov: “Insulin.”
NHS Tayside: “Insulin pumps.”
Well Life: “Insulin Patch Pumps.”

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