About Diabetes

What is a smart insulin pen?

The new generation of connected insulin delivery devices may help simplify your routine.

A smart insulin pen is a reusable injector pen with an intuitive smartphone app that can help people with diabetes better manage insulin delivery. This smart system calculates and tracks doses and provides helpful reminders, alerts, and reports. They can come in the form of an add-on to your current insulin pen or a reusable form which uses prefilled cartridges instead of vials or disposable pens.

Smart insulin pens are a rapidly growing market. Why? Because they are typically more affordable, easy to use, and offer many benefits and improvements for people who depend upon insulin to manage their diabetes.

High-tech help to better manage your diabetes

The biggest challenges for many insulin pen (multiple daily injection) users are:

  • Dose amount: How much to inject 
  • Dose timing: When to inject
  • Insulin quality: Shelf-life, temperature, and storage conditions 

Many people with diabetes have a hard time correctly calculating insulin doses. This can result in insulin “stacking”—when you add more insulin while remaining insulin is still active from previous doses—which can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood glucose, also known as blood sugar). 

A smart insulin pen can:

  • Calculate each dose based on current blood glucose level, carbohydrate amounts, meal size, active insulin, and settings prescribed by your doctor.
  • Deliver accurate half-unit doses.
  • Help prevent skipped or missed doses.
  • Do the math for you when figuring out how to dose for a meal or correct a high blood glucose reading.
  • Keep track of the time and amount of each dose, and remind you when it’s time for the next one.
  • Notify you when your insulin has expired or exceeded its temperature range, so you can replace the cartridge.
  • Send diabetes data to your health care team whenever needed.
  • Work with your smart phone or watch and popular diabetes data tracking platforms.

Frustrated by carb-counting? Some smart pens can offer different dose calculator therapy modes, including for those on fixed doses with a sliding scale, or meal doses based on the size and timing of the meal—making it easier for you! 

A smart pen gives you many of the features of an insulin pump, but without the higher cost and inconvenience or discomfort of having a device attached to your body.

Should you get one?

People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes on multiple daily injections of long or short acting insulin may benefit from a smart insulin pen. If you use an insulin pump, you may consider an insulin pen as a back-up delivery option. Your diabetes care team can help you find out if a smart insulin pen is a good choice for you and whether your insurance or Medicare will cover it. Some manufacturers offer co-pay assistance to make the device more affordable. 

There are a few brands of smart insulin pens available now, and more are in development. You’ll need a prescription for both the pen and the insulin cartridges. Once available only from manufacturers, smart pens are now sold in pharmacies across the country.

According to most users, if you’ve used an insulin pen or pump before, you should have no trouble adapting to a smart pen. If new technology is sometimes hard for you to get used to, you can get help from your diabetes care team. They can train you on using it and make sure it’s set up properly for your needs.

How insulin pens got smarter

The first insulin pen devices were introduced in the late 1980s as an alternative to vials and syringes. They allowed for more accurate dosing, better adherence, and less injection site pain. 

As these devices evolved, they gained digital displays and memory of the most recent insulin doses. Eventually, data tracking “caps” or attachments were developed to help disposable insulin pens keep better track of doses. Glucose sensing, continuous glucose monitoring, dosage timing, reminders, and other advancements followed. The first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–cleared reusable smart insulin pen was launched in 2017. 

Smart pens are designed to be simple to use. Once you’ve downloaded the app to your smartphone and paired it with your pen, you’re ready to go. The device sends real-time data to the app via Bluetooth connection.

Bottom line

If you’re looking at other options for insulin delivery or you need a back-up option to your insulin pump, talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about whether a smart insulin pen could be a good solution for you. A smart insulin pen may be just the thing to help you best manage your diabetes.

This article is sponsored by Medtronic.