I’ve had the Dexcom G5 for almost four days now, so I thought I’d pop up a little first impressions review.
What is it?
The Dexcom G5 is the latest CGM (continuous glucose monitor) from Dexcom, an American company specialising in CGM technology for diabetes. The Dexcom is considered the gold standard CGM and is quite commonly used in countries that provide CGMs as a matter of course to diabetics. In the UK, Dexcom funding is very rare, so the majority of people using Dexcom in the UK are self-funding (see next question for prices).
CGMs work by monitoring the blood glucose levels in interstitial fluid, much in the same way that the Freestyle Libre (a flash glucose monitor) does. In a nutshell, the Dexcom provides continual readings of your blood sugar without the need for fingersticks – although the G5 requires a minimum of two fingersticks a day to calibrate it.
The Dexcom sensor and transmitter are worn on your body – Dexcom recommend the abdomen, but a lot of people use their arms and thighs too – and the signal is transmitted via Bluetooth to a compatible smart phone or a receiver (which is optional with the G5, and costs £275). Whichever device you use can be set to alarm you when your blood sugar drops or rises to a certain level, and also whether it’s rising rapidly or slowly. This is the main difference between it and the Freestyle Libre.
How much does it cost?
I estimate the Dexcom G5 will cost me about £166 per month factoring in the cost of the transmitter cost spread over three months (£133.33 per month) and each sensor lasting two weeks on average (£102.50 per month). If a sensor only lasts one week, that would put the cost at £338.33 per month, but I am hopeful that this won’t be the case!
If you currently use the Libre and are happy paying for that, essentially you’d need to find an extra £66 per month to upgrade (and it’s definitely an upgrade!)
There are a few additional costs involved in the Dexcom, although all but the first one are optional.
- Alcohol wipes – you need to use alcohol wipes to clean the sensor site before insertion, and to clean the transmitter too. For some bizarre reason, Dexcom do not send these with the sensors. I don’t know about other countries, but in the UK it is impossible to buy alcohol wipes other than online – it took two hours of traipsing around pharmacies and supermarkets to discover this. In good news, you can order a pack of one hundred for £3.50 from Amazon. A lot of people recommend Skin Tac wipes, but they are a lot more expensive – £29.98 for fifty – I’m allergic to them, but everyone else I know who uses them, loves them.
- Extra tape to keep the sensor in place – my sensor adhesive began peeling on day three, which is not that impressive, and a little early compared to what I’ve heard. It’s definitely not going to fall off anytime soon, but it is going to need a little help going forward. Your easiest option is some plasters, but I’m secretly six so I’ve ordered some baby animal GrifGrips. I bought a substantial quantity because shipping is £6.15 to the UK, so I wanted to have plenty if I like them, and also wanted to be able to send some to fellow Dexcommers in the UK (hi, Becky!) A pack of five costs about £4.40. There are other options, like Rock Tape, but I plan to see how I get on with the GrifGrips before purchasing any, as I would ideally like my Dexcom to look as pretty as possible.
- An Apple Watch – I’ve had a lot of questions asking if the Apple Watch is essential for the Dexcom G5 – it absolutely isn’t, but I am in love with mine! (P.S. You don’t need the Series 2 in order to use the Dexcom app – the only differences are that the Series 2 is waterproof rather than splash proof, and it has GPS). The advantage of the Apple Watch is that you can use the Dexcom app on it, synced with your phone, to check your BGs discreetly. I found this particularly helpful when I was at a dinner party the other night and didn’t want to constantly be checking my phone. Even though my friends know I’m diabetic and wouldn’t think it was rude, I really appreciated being able to just turn my wrist and know where my blood sugar was. Of course, any actionable readings would have been preceded by an alarm. You need to keep your phone 6m away from your Dexcom, and your Apple Watch needs to be a similar distance from it to work, so its worth pointing out that you don’t gain any extra distance with the watch. Also, your Dexcom syncs with your iPhone first, and then onto your Apple Watch, so there is potential for delay, and you can’t just use Dexcom and the Apple Watch alone, that is without the iPhone.
- There is one additional cost that I would recommend if you buy an Apple Watch – the app Personal (search ‘Nick Lauer’ (the creator) in the app store because ‘personal’ yields rather a lot of results!) It enables you to add your own text to the modular complication watch face so that you can add a Medical ID to your watch face, along with your Dexcom numbers. It costs a bargain £1.99!
- My husband just reminded me that there is one more (I promise this is the last one!) additional cost associated with the Dexcom. If you want your spouse/parent/friend to be able to see your Dexcom graph and receive your alerts, they will need the Dexcom Follow app, which is free, but they will need a smartphone if they don’t already have one.
What do I dislike?
So far I only have a few minor complaints.
- My main contention with Dexcom is minor but easily resolvable on their part. They don’t include alcohol wipes despite all the instructions saying that they’re essential. They weren’t expensive, but difficult to procure at short notice, and it just seems like a massive oversight. I will be mentioning this to Dexcom, and I’m hopeful that they’ll take this on board.
- The adhesive is already peeling away, and has been since day three.
- The app seems to lose signal at least three or four times a day. There was one period during the night where it lost signal for four hours (and lost that data permanently). In hindsight, I could have called Dexcom and I’m sure that they would’ve sent me a replacement transmitter, but I was loving it too much to go without. If it happens again, I will be calling them. I also don’t think this is a very common problem, at least from what I’ve seen on Instagram, and, more importantly, I’m sure that Dexcom would replace a faulty transmitter without argument, and promptly.
- If you leave your phone too far away, it will temporarily lose signal, but the transmitter stores readings for a while (I’m going to ask Dexcom for how long) so you do eventually get them back. It does mean keeping your phone on or very near you at all times, which I’m not that used to, so it’s taking a bit of getting used to remembering.
What did I think that I would dislike, but didn’t?
I thought that the insertion would be painful – it was about a 3/10 on the pain scale. It did bleed a little, but not massive amounts, and you know the old adage ‘if it’s a bleeder, it’s more accurate’ (maybe there’s a snappier one out there actually ha!) Also, because I chose to insert it on my arm, it would have been difficult to insert it on my own, but not impossible. I watched this brilliant video from this lovely woman in preparation for insertion.
I also anticipated finding the sensor very bulky, especially by comparison to the Libre sensor, which is smaller and flatter. In reality, I haven’t noticed it at all. I think that’s partly because I picked a really good (so modest, Tilly!) arm site, so I haven’t had to sleep on the sensor, and it’s just above where my t-shirts end. I also haven’t been worried about people knocking it off, but I haven’t got the Tube since getting it, whereas I commuted on it every day during most of the time I had the Libre. Also, I have a pretty fancy event on Friday and I plan to wear a sleeveless dress – I’m not at all self-conscious of it, but I can see that some people might be. Also, it helps that the event is going to be full of junior doctors, so there’s a slightly higher chance that people will know what it is. I’m actually really looking forward to the first time that somebody notices it and asks me about it! Well, let’s see what kind of reaction I get haaa!
What about Dexcom’s customer service?
So far I’ve been very impressed with their customer service. I rang up on the Friday and spoke to the wonderful Stacey, who was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, and I had my Dexcom by the Wednesday, as promised. I had hoped for some tracking info on my order, but still.
I also rang up when I was having issues getting the Dexcom app to work on my Apple Watch, and I spoke to a lovely French lady whose name I’ve forgotten. She was also brilliant, and went out of her way to help me figure out what was going on.
Essentially, I have total confidence that should I any issues going forward, the staff at the Dexcom UK office will be wonderful!
Would I personally recommend the Dexcom?
In a word: Yes! I am so thrilled with it already, and I can’t imagine living without it now. For me the main benefits are how damn accurate it is (never more than 1 mmol/L or 18 mg/dL out), peace of mind because of the alarms, not having to scan to check my BGs like with the Libre, the ability to easily add insulin and carbs on the app on my phone (I never record insulin and carbs otherwise because it’s too much of a faff on my Contour Next One app), and the excuse to wear baby hedgehogs on my arm for, ahem, medical reasons.