If you’re using a syringe, a standard insulin pen, or in need of a pump break, a connected insulin pen — also known as a “smart pen” — could be remarkably helpful. 

What is a connected insulin pen? 

Connected pens look and feel much like a standard insulin pen but with extra built-in technology.

Standard pens are entirely disposable — when you’re done with it, you toss it out. Connected pens use cartridges of insulin — so you continue using the smart tech but swap in new cartridges of insulin as needed.  

Today’s connected insulin pen options include: 

Here’s a closer look at the perks of using a connected insulin pen. 

Track the amount & timing of every insulin dose 

A connected pen tracks the amount and time of every dose of insulin you take. That means you’ll never have to wonder, “Did I take my insulin?” or “Wait…how many units did I take?” or “Hmm, when did I take that dose?” 

This means you also have a better idea of your insulin-on-board (IOB). IOB refers to the amount of insulin currently active in your bloodstream, and that’s important when you’re taking a medication that stays in your system for 4-5 hours after dosing. For example, if you’re headed out for a dog walk or about to vacuum the house, you can check your IOB to determine your risk of hypoglycemia during that physical activity. 

It can also be helpful to double-check the amount of insulin you dosed. Imagine you’re eating a meal you’ve never eaten before, and you’re trying to estimate the dose of rapid-acting insulin — but you end up going low a few hours after eating. This would be a good indication that you overestimated your insulin dose. If you can look back at exactly how much insulin you dosed, it’s easier to adjust your approach next time you eat that same meal. 

Connect your pen data to your CGM, BGM, and Fitness Tracking data 

Now that you’re collecting the timing and amount of every insulin dose, you can make the most of it by connecting your pen via Bluetooth to your continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and/or blood glucose monitor (BGM). 

Most connected pens can be used with a compatible app on your smartphone that combines your insulin dosing data with your blood glucose data. (Different pens are compatible with different CGMs and/or BGMs.) 

Many smart pen options can link to your fitness tracking technology, like Fitbit, Garmin, Apple Health App, and others. 

By getting all this data in one place, you can work with your healthcare team to identify patterns and trends, like: 

  • Frequent low or high blood sugars while you’re sleeping, after eating, etc. 
  • Severe fluctuations vs. steadier levels 
  • Calculating time-in-range 
  • Overall time spent within your target blood sugar range 
  • Amount of time spent above or below your target range 
  • How much daily mealtime insulin you’re taking 
  • How much daily background/basal insulin you’re taking 

Insulin is a very powerful hormone — even a little bit too much or too little can have a big impact on your blood sugar levels. The more data you have, the more you and your healthcare team can fine-tune your insulin doses to help you reach your goals.  

Calculate insulin doses based on carbohydrate quantity 

Diabetes involves a lot of math. Calculating insulin doses starts with the carbohydrates in any meal, snack, or beverage, but nothing quite takes the joy out of a meal like math! This also creates a lot of room for potential error, especially if you are in a rush or if you’re simply overwhelmed. An error in an insulin dose can really ruin the fun (and your safety) a few hours later with highs or lows. 

With a connected pen, you can program your personal insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio then enter the carbohydrate quantity of your meal. The pen will automatically calculate how many doses of insulin you need! 

Calculates insulin doses to correct high blood sugars 

Another helpful math feature is calculating the dose of insulin you need to correct a high blood sugar. You’ll start by programming your insulin sensitivity factor (ISF) into the pen with support from your healthcare team.  

For example, an ISF of 1:40 means 1 unit of insulin lowers your blood sugar by approximately 40 mg/dL. 

When it’s time to dose a correction of insulin, the high blood sugar level can automatically transfer or be manually added into the compatible app on your phone. It will calculate the correction dose using your programmed ISF. 

Schedule reminders so you won’t forget to take your insulin 

Have you ever climbed into bed and realized you completely forgot your nighttime background insulin dose? Or have you been in the middle of a busy day and forgotten to take insulin with lunch?  

With your connected pen’s app, you can schedule daily reminders to ensure you don’t miss any insulin! Or look back on past doses to confirm you did take your insulin already. 

It’s so easy to forget insulin doses — especially if you’re taking mealtime and background insulin multiple times per day. 

Easily share reports & data with your healthcare team 

Using your pen’s app, you can easily download and send reports to your healthcare team and people in your diabetes support crew. This makes it easy to get support virtually or in between appointments. 

Getting more diabetes support with a connected insulin pen 

Overall, a connected insulin pen can support you in the daily work of managing your insulin doses. Connected pens can offer the perks of a little technology while still maintaining the simplicity of injections. Talk to your healthcare team if you’re interested in trying a connected insulin pen.  

 EDITOR’S NOTE: This content was developed independently by T1D Exchange and was supported by a healthcare contribution from Lilly Diabetes.