The Current

Insulin pumps require careful management to work safely and effectively, says endocrinologist

Insulin pumps are billed as improving quality of life for people with diabetes, but a CBC/Radio-Canada/Toronto Star investigation found that they are linked to more reports of injury and death than any other medical device.

Devices may have played role in 103 deaths, over 1,900 injuries in past 10 years, data shows

Insulin pumps are increasingly popular among Canadians with diabetes. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

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Insulin pumps are billed as improving quality of life for people with diabetes, but the popular devices require training, knowledge and management to be safe and effective, according to one endocrinologist.

The device acts as an artificial pancreas, slowly dripping insulin through a tube and needle under the skin. It's marketed as an alternative to injecting insulin using disposable needles.

"People may come [to] exploring insulin pump therapy with quite unrealistic expectations that it will take care of their diabetes. They won't need to think, they won't need to work," said Peter Senior, an Edmonton-based endocrinologist who has done consulting work for pump makers.

"To do pump therapy well, effectively and safely, I think it actually does require more work. It's a high-needs, high-maintenance situation," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

CBC/Radio-Canada/Toronto Star investigation found that insulin pumps are linked to more reports of injury and death than any other medical device. Health Canada data obtained under Access to Information suggests the devices may have played a role in 103 deaths and more than 1,900 injuries in the past ten years. They've also been the subject of 40 recalls in that same time period.

In a statement to CBC, Health Canada said lab testing is now done by device manufacturers themselves or outsourced to third parties.

Health Canada also said because of "recent post-market concerns" with all infusion pumps, including insulin pumps, it now requires manufacturers to submit evidence of more rigorous testing on their devices before they can be approved for sale.

To discuss the devices and their use, Tremonti spoke to:

  • Peter Senior, professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, and endocrinologist in Type 1 diabetes
  • Simon Heller, professor of clinical diabetes at the University of Sheffield, and consulting physician at the University of Sheffield Teaching Hospital
  • Nav Persaud, staff physician at St Michael's Hospital, and assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine at University of Toronto

With files from CBC News. Produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar