A Review of Tandem's t:slim
Touchscreen meets insulin pump
By Adam Brown, diaTribe
"Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works... To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it's all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don't take the time to do that."
Those were the words of the late Steve Jobs in an interview with Wired in February 1996. More than a decade later, Tandem Diabetes Care took this idea to heart with its new t:slim touchscreen insulin pump, which it designed after conducting a remarkable 4,000 in-depth interviews with patients, healthcare providers, and caregivers. Tandem really wanted to get inside the minds of people who take insulin — pumpers and non-pumpers alike. The new pump was approved by the FDA in November 2011 and launched just last month. I was able to get trained on the t:slim at Tandem's San Diego headquarters soon after it launched, and what follows is my experience wearing the device over the past week. So far, three themes have emerged: some clear differences from other insulin pumps, a focus on simplicity and convenience, and an attention to safety.
Part One: Differences from Other Pumps
- iPhone-like touchscreen
- Rechargeable battery
- Highly customizable "personal profiles" for insulin delivery
From the minute I opened the shipping box, it was clear that the t:slim pump was somewhat different from other pumps I've used — included with the pump were a USB charging cable and adapters for both the wall and car. Even the included user manual comes on a credit-card-like thumb drive. But the most obvious difference between the t:slim and other pumps is the touchscreen. I found this to be the most compelling feature of the pump and a major departure from the button-driven devices I've used since I began pumping in 2002.
Most important, the touchscreen is easy to use, intuitive to navigate through, and responsive. I appreciated the screen's very bright, high contrast, full color design, which also incorporates highly readable bold font and large icons that make selection easy and mis-taps rare. Unlike some other medical device touchscreens, I also appreciated that the t:slim screen did not require a lot of finger pressure to use — it's right on par with using an iPhone or Android smartphone. The one minor shortcoming of the t:slim touchscreen is it doesn't have the smartphone swiping (i.e., to navigate up, down, left, and right) that I'm so used to. Instead, you must hit a down or up arrow key, though this was a fairly minor inconvenience because few of the menus take up more than one screen length.
Another departure from other pumps is the t:slim's rechargeable battery, which lasts seven days on a full charge. A dead battery would take about 90 minutes to completely charge, and on average it takes about a minute of charge time for every percentage point of battery life (i.e., if the pump is at 80% battery life, that's about 20 minutes to fully charge it). Tandem recommends plugging in the t:slim for 10-15 minutes every day to "top it off" — I did this while I showered (see water resistant information below) or when sitting next to my computer, and the t:slim would always return to 100% battery life. The pump can be charged whether or not you are connected to it.
Although a rechargeable battery is new to insulin pumps, I found it refreshing and fairly easy to remember to plug it in — I'm used to doing it for my Dexcom Seven Plus CGM, my LifeScan OneTouch Verio IQ blood glucose meter, my cell phone, my laptop, my iPod, and pretty much everything else these days. The included charger cable is the very common micro-USB computer cable used for many consumer electronics, and I was happy to see Tandem include a wall adapter and car adapter. There are also a variety of battery packs, solar chargers, and the like for those who will not have access to electricity (Tandem is not currently selling these but they are easy to find online). I was glad to hear this is an option since I know many pumpers that are into outdoor camping and backpacking where charging would be a challenge.
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