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Tandem's Project Odyssey May Change Upgrades from Hardware to Software

When a pump company brings out a new pump, wearers using the prior models often want to upgrade to the latest and greatest device for its advancements or improvements in software or hardware. And based on usual industry practice, they expect an upgrade policy that allows them to buy the new pump at a reduced price.

Tandem Pump Company recently announced the good news that FDA approval for the new t:slim G4 insulin pump that comes with a built-in Dexcom G4 is expected later this year. This new pump has a new body, new software, and new parts that allow it to display Dexcom G4 data right on the pump screen. Tandem will be ready to ship 30 days after approval.

When asked about an upgrade policy for current pump wearers, CEO Kim Blickenstaff responded that there were “No plans to offer upgrades to the t:slim G4, once it's approved.” Instead, Tandem plans to offer Project Odyssey, a program similar to the way smart phones handle their updates. Rather than trading in your entire pump for software updates, you will be able to “upgrade” your software at home on your computer. You will download updates and install them yourself.

Unfortunately, even when the upgrades to the G4 are approved by the FDA, this online upgrading platform will not be available. Approval for these remote updates will be submitted to the FDA by the end of this year 2015.

Online software upgrades could be a good process as it would provide a path for seamlessly adding improvements that are FDA approved. It would also allow Tandem to upgrade their current pump using the most accurate current CGM (Dexcom G4) and rapidly upgrade to the G5 CGM with its Bluetooth connectivity to smartphones when it becomes available.

And it would allow Tandem to avoid the expense of supplying new hardware to existing customers, which is a good way for a small company to save resources if an effective alternative is available. Online software upgrades may also be a more efficient way to put new features through clinical trials for FDA approval.

Tandem has already been dealing with upgrade questions. Reports have come out that current t:slim users were told by sales reps that there would be an software upgrade offer but that offer has apparently been taken off the table.

Most pump companies avoid having potential customers delay their purchase once the news is announced that a new model has been submitted to the FDA. They offer an upgrade program that allows a buyer to purchase the current version of the pump now and upgrade at a reduced cost when the new version becomes available. Current and potential t:slim customers only have one option at this point: wait until the t:slim G4 is available to buy a new pump.

Recent reports have Tandem now saying that they will handle customer needs after a new product is approved. It is unclear how current t:slim users and prospective buyers will respond to this vague statement, and sales of the current model may be hit if clarification of the upgrade policy is not forthcoming.

These advancements would improve Tandem’s relationship with their current and prospective customers. It would also potentially provide a capability that Medtronic does not have. It is not clear whether Medtronic’s 620G model available in Japan or the 640G now available in Australia have the ability to upgrade software via an online download. This may be an advantage for Tandem, especially with its access to the dozens of patents that Tandem purchased from Deltec for the Cozmo pump.

Tandem, an innovator in insulin pump features and design, is using innovation to provide service to their customers in a novel way while conserving the use of their resources. The transition to upgrading pumps with new software via a download will take time and patience but will hopefully lead to a faster, less expensive, more efficient process once FDA approval is in place.

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