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How to Buy an Insulin Pump in China


15 May 2009

How to Buy an Insulin Pump in China

And you thought it was hard in the West?

Cash or credit is important.  Payment plans are available.  The training is a little meagre (translation may be necessary)... lots of miming, smiling and head nodding up and down or across from side to side.  I don't speak enough Cantonese, but get by.

It started that way too when I lived in Rome although it was far easier to learn Italian than it will be for me to pick up Cantonese or Mandarin.  The Italians always offer a cappuchino or fresh juice as a way of breaking the ice and comforting a guest upon meeting...even at the doctor's office.  The Chinese offer you hot water (the heat kills the bacteria), and they begin speaking from the memorized English descriptions of the products they are selling.  It is impersonal, yet efficient.  Usually doctors abroad get involved at an arm's length in such matters.  Purchasing and training are not done by them initially.  It is an ethical matter.

The fact is when you live (rather than visit) a foreign country with diabetes, you have to have to be willing to make mistakes, try a lot of different sources and be patient.  A sense of humor helps.   It takes time, and process is slow.  It can be lonely.

My Medtronic Pump is off warranty (4 years).  It is a number 512.  It has been to Cairo (heat), Bali (tropics), and to Sydney (end of the earth) plus a number of cities in-between.  It has never broken down, cracked, or malfunctioned.  But it is time to purchase another.  My insurance coverage has authorized me to proceed.  But I am alone in facilitating this purchase.  My doctor here has one patient on a pump... and that's me.  He's learning a lot.

The next step up is a Paradigm Real-time Pump. Medtronic is the only company that is authorized for distribution in China.  Living outside of the USA, I must personally research what is new on the market for diabetes pump therapy.  The USA is always the first to launch anything new... having the the greatest number of patients with the purchasing power for products.

The southern China distributors for Medtronic carry about 200 other types of durable items for patients in several categories: heart, lung or geriatric care being more profitable.  There are 40 people in Southern China who use an insulin pump. (More people live in China than the entire USA).  Northern China has another distribution office for insulin pumps.  But the demand is not here; pen therapy is utilized by the diabetes population.  Novo Nordisk does well in China.

The Paradigm 522 insulin pump looks just like my old one, but I have been authorized for the CGM (Continuing Glucose Monitor) and sensor.  It is exciting news.  More control, more accuracy which all equals less risk of complications down the road.  It allows me to better manage my blood sugars on a daily basis. I get the whole picture of how I am doing because I have more information.  

But my contact at Medtronic's distribution office, Mr. Tse had some bad news.  Neither the sensor nor the transmitter have arrived.  He's not sure when they will.  Furthermore the HK Government has not approved the radio frequency necessary for the pump and the sensor to communicate. 
"The frequency is there though...the transmission may not always work, but will sometimes."  

"Does someone else use it here?"

"One lady in China, across the Hong Kong border."

I left the the 21st floor of his office in Kowloon, thinking about what to do next. I had my work cut out for me.  I would have to get more involved and call the Medtronic headquarters in California.  There would be many steps in this process.  I needed to figure out where to get training.  Where there's a will there's a way.


Anonymous David Spero RN said...

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6:07 PM  

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