Any medical device can be dangerous if not used properly, but some are certainly more prone to malfunction or user errors than others. Before you start using any medical device, it’s important to know the risks associated with it so you can mitigate them to the best of your ability.
One of those medical devices is the insulin infusion pump, a device invented to perform some of the functions of a healthy pancreas for people with diabetes. It works by pumping a slow drip of insulin through a needle inserted beneath the skin, enabling the wearer to do away with manual injections of insulin and generally keeping blood sugar levels in the normal range for a longer period of time. This device was first approved in Canada in the 1980s and has become increasingly high-tech over the years, but it’s still got a ways to go to be completely safe.
Of all the medical devices on the market today, records show that insulin pumps are likely among the most dangerous. They’ve been linked to more reports of injury or death than any other medical device. In the past ten years, there have been more than 1,900 pump-related injuries to diabetic patients. There have also been at least 40 recalls on insulin infusion pumps.
In the last decade (2008-2018), they were involved in 103 deaths, the most deaths for any medical device in that time period and nearly double the average number of deaths for the top 10 medical devices linked to deaths (60). The closest runner-up was the implantable cardioverter defibrillators with 93 deaths.
While there is no information proving that insulin pumps were the cause of death or injury in any of these cases, it’s important to take a step back and look at the safety risks involved with using an insulin pump.
Insulin pumps may be convenient and make life with diabetes a little more manageable, but they’re not meant to be used without proper instruction, and they’re still prone to having issues just like any other piece of technology. If you’re using an insulin pump or considering getting one, please consult your doctor and get proper training in using a pump. It also helps to have a backup plan in case something goes wrong with your pump.
“The misconception is that [pumps] will think for you,” says Dr. Peter Senior, an Edmonton-based endocrinologist who has done consulting work for pump makers. “They will make the decisions. But the pump is just a dumb device that will do what you ask it to do. If you forget to ask it to do important things, or you ask it to do wrong things, then problems can arise.”
Insulin pumps are not for everyone, particularly those with “brittle” diabetes that’s difficult to control. Some experts are concerned that the devices are being pushed on patients as a “fix” even if it might not be the best method of managing diabetes for that particular patient. If you think you may not be a good candidate for an insulin pump, it doesn’t hurt to talk to your doctor about it and even get a second opinion from another medical professional.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?