By: Jan Chait
Not so long ago, there were two insulin pump companies—MiniMed and Disetronic. In the past couple of years, however, new companies seem to come along every few months. Now we have Medtronic MiniMed, Disetronic, Animas, Dana, Deltec and soon Nipro.
That’s just in the United States.
With the growing number of pumps—all of which deliver insulin, albeit with different “bells and whistles,” and all of which cost pretty much the same—the choice of whose pump you buy may come down to service.
At Your Service
“My perception is that most of the calls are for hand-holding,” observes Michael Robinton, executive director of Insulin-Pumpers.org, an information Web site and online mail list for pumpers. When people have problems, they “want to talk to somebody who is responsible and knowledgeable.”
Ray Hoese, director of marketing communications for Medtronic MiniMed, agrees.
“I think great service is getting people on the phone who care and understand what diabetes means to the people’s lives, not just their health. And great service means people who want to help—and will do their best. It also means the more technical things, like not being on hold too long and getting clear answers to your questions.”
Hoese isn’t alone in his thoughts. People who call the pump support line “want to talk to somebody who cares about them and what’s going on,” states Patty Carson, RD, CDE, who manages the pump support department for Disetronic, another of the three major pump companies. “They want immediate resolution to their issues. We’re a very service-driven society.”
Audrey Finkelstein, vice president of marketing and clinical services for Animas, notes that everybody promises good service, although, in reality, not everybody provides it.
“[Diabetes] is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week disease,” she argues, which means that a company needs to spend an equal amount of time providing service.
Animas’s idea of good service—in addition to the obvious need to address people’s problems when they call—is to provide follow-up. For example, Finkelstein says: “When the pump ships, we call within two weeks to see if training has been set up. If so, were they pleased? We call [customers] to check if it’s time to order supplies and ask them how things are going.”
John Hughes of Silverton, Oregon, reports that he gets premier service from his pump company.
“An example of good service is when you call the pump company at 10 p.m.[and] get a trained person on the line who determines that your pump is ‘hosed’ and [arranges to] send one out the next day. Great service is when you then call your local pump sales rep at 10:15 p.m. and he immediately jumps in his car and brings you one of his spare pumps to use until the FedEx delivery arrives.”
Leslie Bagwill of Syracuse, Missouri, doesn’t like it when pump company representatives focus on the “bad” things they have “heard” about a rival company’s products. On the positive side, she says, “I like to feel that when I call customer service, the person is really listening to the problems I am having and is not sitting there thinking, ‘What an idiot,’ or at least does not make me feel that is what they are thinking.”
Most calls, the pump company representatives say, involve education—from new pumpers who want someone to “hold their hand” while they change a set to more experienced ones who are trying out a feature they have not used before.
When there were only two pump companies, your choice may have come down to looks or features such as waterproofing or extended boluses. Today, it may come down to support, service and attitudes.
The Rev. Randall Winchester, of Murray, Kentucky, notes that “terrible service is usually from companies that seem to feel you cannot or will not change to another company or where there is little or no effective competition.”
Finkelstein agrees, saying, “If you do the right thing for [customers], they will stay with you.”
Is It Medical or Mechanical?
How do you know when to call the pump company for help and when to call your healthcare provider? Ray Hoese, director of marketing communications for Medtronic MiniMed, has a simple answer:
“Address your blood glucose first, pump second.”
Pump companies cannot address medical situations. They cannot, for example, tell you what to do to change a basal rate or even how to basal test.
“If you forget … we can send you a written form, but we can’t tell you what to do,” cautions Audrey Finkelstein, vice president of marketing and clinical services for Animas.
“Treat your diabetes first,” is what Hoese says his company emphasizes. “That means, check your blood glucose often. If there is a problem with your pump, the first thing you should do is check your blood glucose. Diabetes is about blood-glucose control, and that should always be the first thing you address. If you need insulin, you should take insulin—by injection if your pump is not working. If you need food, you should eat something. If it’s an emergency, you should call 911.
“I cannot emphasize that enough: Treat your diabetes first and then worry about your pump. Everyone who takes insulin should keep extra insulin and syringes around.”
And, Hoese adds, “if your pump is doing something you don’t understand or is having a problem, you should call us after you’ve checked your blood glucose and made sure it is in the normal range. If you need dosing advice, call your doctor or diabetes educator.”