I-TEAM: Insulin pumps can provide stable care for diabetics, but can they also be dangerous due to failing parts?

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Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019

Insulin pumps have been beneficial for diabetics, but are prone to failure rates. (Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Hospitalizations because of diabetes and hypertension are increasing in Georgia. Nearly 700 people in Richmond County alone went to the hospital last year for diabetes.

But another concern is the number of diabetic insulin pumps that are failing patients.

The Food and Drug Administration tracks complaints about medical devices. We crunched only a month's worth of data. The numbers are shocking.

But let’s talk to a diabetic. This is where Diana Wood enters the story.

“It’s all controlled with the center button,” Wood said, cradling her Medtronic Minimed 670G insulin pump in her hand. “It kind of looks like a Game Boy, doesn’t it?”

Wood can barely remember a time where the pump wasn’t connected to her. Due to her type 1 diabetes, she says she’s “110 percent” dependent on the pump.

Wood was in her 20's and a newlywed when a doctor told her that her body wasn't producing insulin. But because of the pump, she can live a relatively normal life.

"It basically gives me a flat rate all day long based on months and months prior to using it and then whenever I eat adjust it to give more,” Wood said.

Wood is on her fourth upgrade. She's had very few problems with her pump, but the one she did have nearly killed her.

“I have had an issue where I was hospitalized,” Wood said. “We don’t know if it was a crimp in the line, or if it was mismanagement on my part.”

She isn't alone. The FDA tracks complaints about medical devices. Our I-Team analyzed a month's worth of data. More than 7,000 reported their insulin pump malfunctioning. Nearly 700 people were injured because of the malfunctions. A dozen people died. This is just in the month of January.

The Associated Press found when it comes to medical devices, none have had more reported problems over the last decade than insulin pumps. In the data we analyzed, problems range from circuit failure to battery and software problems.

The FDA issued a recall for the remote controllers of mini med insulin pumps last month, citing potential cybersecurity risks.

Wood received a similar recall e-mail last month, but it was for the plastic casing where her insulin reservoir locks into place.

However, her pump is fine, and so is Wood – provided her pump keeps pumping away.

If you’re having trouble with a medical device such as an insulin pump, you can always alert the FDA through their device compliant database.

We also would like to hear from anyone who has taken extreme measures to afford insulin.

If you’ve had to cut back on doses of insulin or driven a great length to get it,