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Diabetes advocates call for coverage of 'game-changer' treatment


For most diabetics, finger pokes are a daily part of life – but they don't have to be.

New technology is offering an easier way to manage diabetes, and advocates and doctors are calling on the province to expand coverage to include the devices.

Tanner Stanley was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes nine years ago. Managing his blood sugars meant testing his blood up to 10 times a day.

Now, he uses a continuous glucose monitor (CGMs), a wearable device that allows him to track blood sugar levels throughout the entire day with no pokes.

"It's honestly changed my life," Stanley said. "For the first time since before I was diagnosed, I finally feel like I can live a normal life."

Stanley said the health impacts of high blood sugar are serious and the device has given him peace of mind and the freedom to do the things he loves without worrying.

"Before, I couldn't go and do exercises without constantly worrying about where my sugars are sitting," he added. "Now I can look at my phone, so it's really improved my overall health."

According to Diabetes Canada, more than 250,000 Albertans will be diagnosed with diabetes in the next decade. With a diagnosis comes an increased risk of associated health complications, including stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and amputations.

Diabetes specialist Dr. Jeff Winterstein called the technology a "game changer."

"Patients are actually enthusiastic about looking at their sugars … and we can see from a practitioner's perspective what we were never able to see," Winterstein said.

Winterstein said the data collected by the device helps paint a more robust picture of what's happening and can identify spikes or drops overnight that patients are unaware of.

"If you think of your finger sticks as a snapshot in time, this continuous glucose monitoring technology is like a movie," Winterstein said. "You can get a lot more information from a movie than you can a snapshot in time."

Alberta currently covers insulin pumps, but only covers continuous glucose monitors for uninsured health benefit patients who are injecting insulin at least once a day. For everyone else, the devices cost between $3,000 and $6,000 a year.

Winterstein wants to see that change.

"This kind of technology really empowers the patient and helps treat diabetes and should be available to everybody," he said. "It really it's beneficial for every single patient with diabetes to be on this technology, and hopefully the budget will include that in terms of public coverage."

Diabetes Canada reports that diabetic care currently costs the Alberta health-care system close to $600, and that cost is expected to climb by $800 million by 2033.

Winterstein said publicly funding CGMs would save Alberta money in the long run by helping people manage the disease better, which in turn protects them from other associated health issues.

"By decreasing the incidences of hypoglycemia events, you are saving a lot of patients from having to go to the emergency department," he said. "If you can predict them and prevent them, you are saving a ton of time, manpower and money with this technology."

Diabetes Canada has also recommended that provincial governments cover CGMs for anyone who would see health benefits from having one.

In July 2022, the Government of Alberta created a diabetes working group to review care in the province.

"The working group will identify gaps in the care currently provided, and look at ways to strengthen prevention, screening, education and treatment for Albertans at risk of and living with diabetes.

"Assessing diabetes devices and the role of technology in diabetes treatment will be part of this work," Andrea Smith, press secretary to the minister of health, said in a statement Wednesday.

The group is expected to release its final report and recommendations to the health minister in the spring.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Evan Kenny