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FreeStyle Connect Data Management System

NOTE: I haven't updated this review, nor even paid any attention to the fact that ThereaSense was acquired by Abbot. The new link to info about the FreeStyle Connect is here. The page does say that the product has been discontinued, and it looks as if the preferred solution is now the FreeStyle CoPilot, which I haven't seen. Thanks to Landrum Haddix for the heads-up.

TheraSense's FreeStyle blood glucose tester is a terrific tool for diabetics to use to test their blood. It's really easy (and painless) to use, is well documented, and has an elegant design. I've converted several users to it from other systems, including the office of my doctor; in diabetic circles, you can always make users of other systems jealous by demonstrating the FreeStyle.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized I was filling up the little book where I record my sugar levels. While I was thinking of this, I also remarked on the fact that the book is kind of useless; while you can page through it and glance at readings, there's no way to graph them, of course, or really do anything with them except look. In a few minutes that night I put together a simple table in mySQL and wrote some simple web scripts to enter and view results. I figured that once I had them recorded, I could dump them to Excel for graphing, or find a PHP module to help me out.

But then I remembered that Therasense had a cable which would connect the unit directly to a PC, and software for analysing sugar levels. I went to TheraSense' website, and saw that they have a new product which is basically a meter which comes with or plugs into some Palm Pilot models, but not mine, alas. After some digging on the site, I found it and ordered the FreeStyle Connect Data Management System.

It came the other day, and these are my considered first impressions. They're first impressions, but I don't think they'll change much. To sum it up, this product is disappointing, but not a complete disaster. As with the FreeStyle meter itself, I haven't used any competing products. Despite the software being at version 1.6, the whole thing has kind of an amateurish feel about it; like a product from the mid-1980s.

Hardware On the FreeStyle meter itself, there's a small jack, similar to a simple microphone or earphone jack on a portable tape recorder. The hardware consists of a block, similar in size though not weight to a power brick. Coming out one end is a cable that goes to the FreeStyle meter, out the other is a cable that ends with a 9-pin female serial interface connector. While I wasn't surprised at this, I'm sorry it's not a USB connecctor. USB connectors are common these days, and much easier to deal with than standard serial connectors. Unfortunately, I'll be using the system on a laptop which has a serial connector only on its base station. That means I'll have to either 1) buy a USB-Serial adaptor for about $50 or 2) dock the laptop every time I want to move data from the meter to the laptop. Not a major inconvenience, but an inconvenience nonetheless. I would much rather have a USB version, and hope the company is working on one.

Software As I said, the software is in version 1.6. It feels more like a .6 version. (This impression is supported by the documentation, which is spiral bound and looks and feels like it was produced on an old laser printer, but more about it below.) Installation went fine, that is until I read in the documentation that I was supposed to answer No to one question about a DLL, but of course I answered Yes. So far, I don't think I've had to pay a price for that mistake.

After installing the software, the first thing to do is download data from the meter. This went OK, though you need to make sure the meter is connected and turned on before you do this. It doesn't give you much information as it's copying data, not even a progress bar; instead a sort of "busy" indicator is displayed by, and I'm not kidding, alternating a red with a red /. Very strange.

The software complains if the computer's clock is more than 10 minutes different from the meter's clock. Mine was. There's nothing wrong with this, and the software will works, but it will complain until you corect the time. Unfortunately, there's no way to do this from the software, you have to use the buttons on the front of the meter. In general, the link between the Free Style Connect software and the meter is one way. The FreeStyle meter can upload data, but the software can't do anything to the meter, such as erase its memory or set the time. It's too bad, a closer connection would be handy.

At its main task of producing graphs and charts, the software is good but not great. You have a choice of 8 basic reports, and can specify date ranges for each. The reports are nice, and certainly meet the needs for which I got it: to be able to view data in ways that I couldn't with the little book. They do meet their purpose, too, in giving you a great way to monitor your blood sugar over time, and see trends that aren't apparent from the paper version. I do think they'll be a big help to me.

But I am disappointed that I have to accept the charts as the developers created them. Customization is limited to date ranges. And, very surprisingly, I can't export the data to a text file that I could read in Excel or something else so that I could create my own charts and do my own analysis. It's not documented, but I can see that the database is an Access file; unfortunately it's password protected and the password doesn't seem to be documented anywhere. Since the application seems to be written in Access, I know it would be easy to include some export functions.

TheraSense does document the protocol used by the system for getting data from the OneTouch. I've downloaded it, and may take a look at writing my own routines for reading it. But that seems to be more work than my original scheme of writing tools for posting to my own mySQL database.

The software/hardware combination is $75 on TheraSense website. The cable unit alone is $65. It will give you more insight into how your sugar levels change than you can get from the little book, but at the same time it lacks the spit and polish I had expected from the company. The FreeStyle meter is a very nice product indeed; the Data Management System just feels a little sloppy in comparison. If you're using the FreeStyle connect, and want more than you can get from the little booklets, this is probably your best bet.



Clear charts. Fairly easy to use. Moderately priced.


No USB support. No support for data export to other programs. Minor bugs in the software program.

-- Steve Michel, 6/22/02

Note: After writing the above, and thanks to the help of my pal Jim Voss, I was able to 'crack' the Access database. There are utilities on ZDNet that will recover the password from the database. I know what it is now, but I won't print it here. Now I have an unlocked copy of the database; I am using it in read only manner, linking to it from other Access databases. If I develop anything interesting, I'll find a way to post it. - 6/23/02

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Last update: 5/23/2005; 2:14:32 PM.