Medtronic Insulin Pumps

Posted on 05/20/2010 in misc

This is going to get ranty. You've been warned.

My wife wears an insulin pump. It costs over $5000 and has be replaced every 4-5 years. The supplies it consumes monthly run several hundred dollars. Every.Month. There are no generics, no alternate suppliers. We bend over and pay whatever Medtronic wants. Insulin pumps have been generally available for about 15 years, and nothing about them has gotten less expensive. We also have a $70 USB dongle that allows the pump to talk to their website and uploads all the blood sugar readings on the pump so Michelle can print them out and bring them to her doctor appointments.

It is too much to ask that the damn thing work with modern operating systems? The USB piece only works with XP or Windows 2000. That's right, it only works with obsolete operating systems. They claim it will work with 32 bit Vista, but I couldn't get it to work. Based on my Google results, I'm not alone. Michelle had to come to my office this morning to use an XP machine to get her data off the pump for her appointment today. Her doctor mentioned that she has been complaining for years about the lack of Mac support. When Michelle called tech support this morning they told her that her information was wrong. XP is not obsolete, and Windows 7 support is years away.

Should I be concerned that my wife's life is dependent on a company that believes Windows XP is a modern operating system? Coming next year from Medtronic, Carelink 64, diabetes management for the Commodore 64!

Medtronic is a $4 billion dollar company with over 41,000 employees. They can't find someone that can dedicate a week to porting the USB drivers to 64 bit? Microsoft stopped selling XP to consumers in June 2008. In reality the vast majority of consumer systems were shipping with Vista as far back at Christmas 2007. The XP virtual machine available for Windows 7 is only available if you have Windows 7 Enterprise. Consumer PCs will not have access to it. So basically if you have bought your computer since late 2007 your $5000 insulin pump is useless for sharing data. You can't print reports for your doctor. You'll have to spend 3 hours before every appt clicking through every blood sugar reading for the last 90 days and writing it all down. Welcome to the future, Medtronic style.

Michelle has already decided that her next pump will come from some other company. Not just because of this. Medtronic customer service has sucked for years. Actually, it's sucked every since Minimed got bought out by Medtronic. They've dismissed Michelle when she reported defective supplies. They dismissed her when she reported that her pump would freak out when she got near gas pumps. Years later they acknowledged the problem with static electricity. They dismissed her when she reported that her pump won't work with any battery other than Energizer. (Actually, I thought she was nuts on that one too. I was wrong. It is the weirdest thing. The pumps will not work with any battery brand other than Energizer.) They too frequently run short of supplies and ration them. And of course since they've locked everything down with numerous patents nobody can offer an alternative source of supplies for the pump. The company, and the whole closed proprietary system just sucks. I guarantee you if open competition existed in the insulin pump market these issues would not exist. They have over 80% of the market (I'm guessing, concrete numbers are impossible to find), so competition really isn't an issue. They didn't get there by superior service. they have bought up technology and been very aggressive with patent lawsuits against smaller competitors.

In a word, Medtronic sucks. And my wife's life depends on then.

Update; I Googled Medtronic sucks. I was curious what would come up. I did, on the first page. It's a post from a couple of years ago detailing one of of those episodes with Medtronic not taking Michelle seriously about defective supplies.

Update #2: Barely one hour after I posted this and it's on the first page of Google for Medtronic sucks. Fear the power of O'DonnellWeb!

Update #3: Medtronic won't spend $10,000 to fix their USB dongle, but they did spend over $1.2 million lobbying the US Govt in 2009. And you wonder why we can't have decent health care reform in this country?