Medtronic Underwhelms With Latest Insulin Pump Release

After months of anticipation, Medtronic’s newest insulin pump model recently received FDA approval and the company began marketing this incremental update to their pump line in early August. The new pump, dubbed the 630G, comes more than a year after a similar model, the 640G, came to market in the EU, Australia, and elsewhere. With the 640G available for so long, the features of the similar 630G are mostly unsurprising. What is unexpected is just how underwhelming this update has turned out to be, and how some of the most anticipated features of this generation of pump technology did not materialize.

First off, let’s talk about what has not changed from the previous 530G, a pump that was based on a decade-old, but well-proven platform. You’ll still get solid insulin infusion, of course, and the new pump still integrates with the dodgy Enlite-based Continuous Glucose Monitor system. You still have the excellent Bolus Wizard, all the reservoirs and infusion sets designed for the Paradigm line still work, and the Bayer Contour Next glucose meter is still part of the package.

The differences between these models are seemingly substantial, but largely cosmetic, and unexpectedly frustrating. The new pump has a large, color screen in portrait configuration, and a completely new button layout (with a corresponding new menu navigation) which, supposedly, makes the pump easier to use one-handed. (I’ve never had a problem with using my 723 one-handed.) You can now trigger boluses from the paired glucose meter, though you don’t have access to the Bolus Wizard that way which makes the feature nearly useless. The new pump is significantly larger (about 30%). This is partly to accommodate the update to a larger AA battery, and now the expensive lithium versions are suggested. Additionally, the pump is waterproof (about time!) and there are some edge-case configurations that are supported, including 15-minute interval basal rates. (I envy any PWD who has their therapy tuned to where this would make any difference.)

An objectively less positive feature also lurks inside this new pump. Besides the 5-fold cost increase in batteries, what is most likely to negatively impact patients is the change to a new radio frequency range for the pump and all accessories. What this means is that you’ll have to switch to a new Contour Next meter to interface with your pump, and a new transmitter for those already-awful Enlite sensors. What is much less obvious is that the new pump cannot connect to the recently released Minimed Connect device! This device made a huge difference to those of us who want our real-time data available on our phones and in the cloud, where we can monitor them much more closely than remembering to check the pump display every few minutes. With the new pump, not only is there no Bluetooth built in (Shame!) but even the clunky solution released barely a year ago is incompatible! This means the only way to get data off the pump and into the cloud for your own use or that of your caregivers is via a real, full computer running Java. I dont’ expect my brand-new medical devices to require vintage technology to work.

The 630G also brings us another substantial price increase. The pump now retails for $7900, a $550 increase over the 530G. (Which was, itself $650 more than the preceding model.) With the vast reductions in costs for developing electronic devices — even those used in a medical setting — and the ever-expanding audience for insulin pumps, there is simply no excuse for this price gouging for such infintesimal return.

Overall, the 630G is lackluster, and a disappointing, incremental update in insulin pump therapy. In some important ways, it’s a step back for those of us who are not waiting for these profit-focused companies to give us what we need to stay alive and healthy. (I don’t need a fancy screen, I have one on my phone already!)

The release and marketing of this new pump makes it clear that Medtronic prioritizes profits over patient care. To illustrate, in the weeks leading up to the 630G release, I received call after call from Medtronic aggressively trying to scare me into upgrading to the 530G (my current 723 is two years out of warranty but my 722 waits as a backup). Now, just days after this apparent push to clear 530G inventory, the new pump is released. I wonder how many people will be faced with a fee to upgrade their brand new 530Gs? It is also expected that the 670G, a more complete “Artificial Pancreas” system will be available next year. It’s telling when a company pushes patients into expensive, incremental upgrades just before releasing new products.

Bottom line: Skip the 630G. It’s a half-baked update, a step back in important ways, and is likely to be an orphan in the Medtronic insulin pump lineup.