Thoughts on the Dexcom Share Outage

Some background for those wondering “what’s a Dexcom?” and “why should I care about a ‘Share’ outage?”: Dexcom manufactures a popular continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, that allows people with diabetes who wear it to monitor their blood glucose levels in almost real time. It reduces the need for manual BG checks using a glucometer, provides advance warnings of low and high blood glucose events, and can interface with a popular insulin pump model to partially manage delivery of insulin. Dexcom’s Share server allows their CGM users to share blood glucose data with friends and family, so that others can remotely monitor them using a smart device. Share has been down for much of the Thanksgiving weekend, and to put it mildly, a lot of people are not happy. 

Online service outages happen, and the more essential they are to our daily lives, the more angry we are when they happen. We’ve come a long way from the days when the worst that could happen was a website going offline. Online services are more deeply embedded in our lives, and the consequences of outages are – or in some cases feel – more serious.

A couple of suggestions for Dexcom

Companies that deliver essential online services, and I’m looking at you Dexcom, would do well to remember two cardinal rules:

  • First, be clear with users about whether you are delivering a core product or a secondary service. As the anger over the outage spread, I began to think about the nature of Dexcom Share and whether it can be classified as one of Dexcom’s core offerings, or an add-on service that supports the primary product (their G6 CGM). The messages are mixed. It’s part of a very expensive product set (and I know – I just dropped a lot of money for G6 sensors and a transmitter), but it’s free to use. IMHO, anything that’s free – email, social sharing, etc. – is a crapshoot in terms of reliability. A paid service also comes with the right to complain when things go wrong. But here, we have a free-but-essential service. See the potential conflict?
  • Second, communicate in a clear and timely way. Look at the screenshot below. It says everything about the poor quality of Dexcom’s messaging, and the confusion it’s creating. The timeliness of updates on social media isn’t any better.

Rush to judgment

In the type one diabetes community, everyone’s journey is different. My experience as a person who has lived with diabetes for 43 years is radically different than that of the parent of a newly diagnosed child. I managed my diabetes for years without access to a glucometer, using pork insulin; new initiates to the diabetes community may have access to insulin pumps, CGMs, more sophisticated types of insulins, and other treatments, drugs and tools, including Dexcom Share. That’s their normal, and it informs how they deal with the disease. I may not necessarily understand the venom that’s directed at Dexcom, but I understand that it’s coming from a place of concern about loved ones and the feeling that something they depend on has failed them.

But here’s something that needs to the mentioned : Access isn’t the whole story. Tools to manage type one are expensive, and the majority of people with type one diabetes aren’t able to afford them. Relying on Dexcom Share implies that the user has a privilege that many can’t enjoy.

Many who enjoy that privilege took to social media to vent their frustration with Dexcom and assign blame for the outage. The frustration is understandable, but the conjecture wasn’t helpful or constructive. Suggesting that Dexcom doesn’t care about their users, isn’t properly staffed to deal with an emergency, hasn’t paid for reliable cloud infrastructure, and demanding a full accounting of what went wrong –while it’s being repaired – doesn’t solve the problem.

We all need to vent, but as a customer I’m more interested in knowing what went wrong and how the company plans to prevent it from happening in the future. If the answer isn’t satisfying, that’s the time to press the case with Dexcom and maybe consider moving to another solution. The latter step admittedly isn’t easy because of the few available CGM options, which is driving some of the online anger.

But if the tech is essential to keeping someone alive, venting is the least constructive thing to do in the moment. If there’s not a Plan B for a tech failure, health care providers can help. Facebook comments are a distraction.

This is going to happen again

There will be future outages. If not Share, with some piece of technology that lessens the burden of type one. I’m not going to offer advice about how to respond to those failures. My circumstances (pump/CGM user who doesn’t Share) are probably different than those of many reading this. But regardless of how you or I respond, everyone with type one needs to have constructive plan to manage the disease when technology fails. We can’t press pause while we wait for some piece of tech to start working again. We have lives to live.

Disclosure: I’m a longtime Dexcom user, but other than giving them a lot of cash over the years I have no relationship with the company. So I can say whatever I want, within limits.