What are the hidden costs of finger stick tests?

Four hundred and sixty-three million people worldwide have diabetes. That’s according to the International Diabetics Federation’s 2019 Diabetes Atlas which also predicts a 51% increase in the number of people with diabetes by 2045. [1]

For many of these the standard method used for monitoring their condition is the finger prick test in which a lancet is used to extract a drop of blood which is then used to measure glucose levels. With these tests being carried out by individuals up to a multiple number of times a day, that’s a lot of testing at a considerable cost to economies. So much so that a Business Research Company report in 2019 forecast that the worldwide cost of the testing strips alone would amount to just under $13billion in 2021. [2]

Apart from the economic cost, are there any other considerations that we should bear in mind when looking at finger stick tests? Well let’s start with the obvious one, the pain which accompanies every test. There are a number of techniques which people can use to lessen the pain, such as using the side of the finger or ensuring that the lancet does not become blunt through overuse. Nevertheless, there is a danger that a desire to avoid pain can lead to a reduction in regular testing. [3] This in turn can exacerbate symptoms, requiring additional medical interventions in due course.

It is not surprising therefore that Diabetes UK comments that for some finger prick testing can be a stressful experience. That stress can be exacerbated by the need to undertake testing when outside the confines of the home, perhaps before a meal or in the middle of a busy work day. Not only is there the potential embarrassment of having to test in public, there may also be a reluctance to reveal a personal health diagnosis to others. Left unchecked these stresses and anxieties could prevent an individual from carrying out necessary testing or could develop into an ongoing mental health issue.

There is also the chance that the finger prick test may give false results, leading to inappropriate treatments. Temperature, humidity, the location of the test site, or food residue on fingers could all affect readings. In addition, if the lancet draws an insufficient drop of blood there is a temptation to squeeze the site rather than start again. Squeezing, however, can produce interstitial fluid which gives a different reading from blood.

Aside from these more obvious drawbacks there is one other “hidden” cost which we’d like to highlight today: the problem of sustainability. The production of, at a conservative estimate, some 28 billion test strips, not to mention billions of lancets and wipes, every year is a drain on resources [4]. The safe disposal of these products after use provides another challenge.

Pain, mental health impacts, sustainability; three good reasons why as a society we should investigate alternatives to diabetes finger prick tests. Diabetes control requires regular monitoring; and a non-invasive test, such as the one which we have developed, could help people to embrace testing without the negative consequences.

[1] https://www.diabetesatlas.org

[2] https://blog.marketresearch.com/blood-glucose-test-strips-to-reach-record-sales-due-to-global-diabetes-epidemic

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769798/

[4] Prices for test strips vary across countries and product types. Research indicates an indicative price of $0.5 per strip in the USA, nearer $0.7 in Canada, whilst the indicative cost in the UK is nearer £0.20 ($0.28) per strip. Other countries vary above and below these figures. In our calculations we have estimated an average price of $0.46 and a total annual cost of $13b as indicated in the article, which in turn leads to a total of 28 billion strips produced in the year. We appreciate this is a conservative estimate as it equates to far less than one test per day for each individual suffering from diabetes. Indeed if every diabetes sufferer took just one finger prick test every day that would equate to some 169 billion test strips each year.

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