Devices & Diagnostics, Patient Engagement

Dexcom’s IT outage shows fabulous device maker floundering with patient communication

Scores of users took to Facebook to express their dismay, frustration and anger at Dexcom when the CGM device company failed to properly keep them updated after an IT outage prevented type 1 diabetes patients from sharing data.

Dexcom is the leader in continuous glucose monitoring systems and the company has created a product that brings parents of children battling type 1 diabetes and users remarkable peace of mind.

The San Diego device maker has also moved with the times pairing its medical devices with ubiquitous consumer electronic devices such as the Apple Watch. They have cemented their premier in the CGM space, one that is acknowledged by rivals like Medtronic.

But if they were smug at creating a device that one user described as “god-send” they fell mightily from that high perch due to inadequate patient communication when an IT outage prevented parents from being able to use the “Follow” app to monitor their kids’ glucose readings. That created huge consternation that found expression on Dexcom’s Facebook page.

As of 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday, the page had a total of 6000 comments. The outage appears to have begun in the middle of the night over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

On Saturday, November 30, this is what one Facebook user wrote when people were getting “server error” messages on their devices.

Liz Meyer 24 hours Dexcom. Server issues don’t take 24 hours to fix. How about some real communication to let us know what’s going on. This is not a free service, we pay large amounts of money to use your device and rely on it functioning properly. Had I not been awake when it first went out, it could have been terrible. How does a company that makes so much money from diabetics not have a way to properly communicate with its customers? It’s really not ok.

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Then more comments followed on November 30.

Kathy Griffin DEXCOM G6 Please rethink notifications or push out info it’s not sharing. My daughter has Down Syndrome and woke up very low. Had we known there was an issue, we could have done things differently. While I am thankful for the life changing device, we pay a hefty price to you and you also receive money from our insurance company. I understand short amounts of time but this is way past the acceptable phase.

Heather Nelson Per your update trend of every 4-5 hrs you are overdue Dexcom. Could you PLEASE provide a new update with something other than the same generic feedback. Like, have you at least DISCOVERED the problem, if so, what was it. At least give us some confidence that you KNOW what you are battling here? And are you building redundancies in place to insure this particular problem NEVER happens again? Offer us up the hope that we won’t have to battle this kind of outage again anytime soon…..or ever. Or how about a freaking apology, for the piss-poor customer communication level. Zero call backs from customer service, no tech support statements on your own website, and practically ghosting the world via social media save for your generic vague-bookings.

Dexcom…. you can do better. We’re all with you…. but step up please.

Laura Louise Dexcom the last update I see is from 3:02 pm. It is 8:55 pm as I type this. That is almost 6 hours of no communication. I would think that a company that produces a medical [device] that can save lives would be more forthcoming on what is happening.

I have three questions. What happened? What are you [doing] to fix it? What are you doing to prevent this from happening in the future.

This is a holiday weekend filled with potatoes, stuffing and pies. Carbs are everywhere. Please fix this.

Not all messages were from angry, frustrated users and parents. Some pointed out that there was life before CGM and outages and glitches could occur and should be planned for. Others commented on how thankful they are for having CGM technology to begin with compared with diabetics in the past.

Cassie Henningfield I am very disappointed in reading some of the things people are saying. I am a mom of 2 T1ds and both have Dexcom. I am not upset that the share app has been down. At least it was just the share app and not the whole system. Back when my uncle was alive and he was a fellow t1d he didn’t have this wonderful technology that we have. He had to wake up in the middle of the night and poke his finger multiple time. So instead of bad mouthing Dexcom be thankful that we have this technology that can help us care for our kids or loved ones.

Per Dexcom’s Facebook page, the company first acknowledged the outage on Dec. 1 at 8:03 a.m. (most likely Pacific Time) when a statement said:

11/30/19, 8:03AM: We’re aware of an issue with Dexcom Follow that may cause users to not receive CGM data or alerts. We are actively working on a resolution and will continue to post updates here.

The next update does not occur until nearly four and a half hours later.

11/30/19, 12:29PM: We continue to experience issues with Dexcom Follow that may cause users to not receive CGM data or alerts. The team has been working around the clock on a resolution and will continue to post updates here.

Three more short updates follow in the next 12 hours with all saying that the Follow app isn’t working and that updates will be posted. But there’s no acknowledgment of what the problem is, why it occurred or whether other services were being affected as users were reporting them. Then, finally on Dec. 1 likely because the volume of angry and upset customers was too much to ignore, came a slightly longer update:

12/1/2019, 8:43AM: As of this morning, the Dexcom Follow services have not yet been fully restored. There continues to be a 24/7, large cross functional effort with both Google and Microsoft to diagnose and address the issue. Dexcom did not release any updates or changes over the holiday to create this issue, which has created a more complex investigation.

We read every comment and understand your disappointment in both the system challenges and communication shortfalls. First and foremost we are 100% focused on solving the issue at hand. Additionally, we are committed to creating a better customer communication experience moving forward. You deserve nothing less.

While the statement said Dexcom representatives “read every comment” it appears that the company wasn’t really immediately responding to the angst of users and parents.  In fact, it appears that the replies occurred several days later.

On November 30, a concerned parent wrote:

Molly Corombos My 10 year old daughter is missing a sleepover birthday party tonight because you’re having technical issues. Probably not a big deal on your end but soul crushing for a 4th grader.

On Wednesday, four days later, Dexcom wrote:

Dexcom Hi Molly. We’re sorry for your family’s experience, and we’d like to follow up with you. If you’re still experiencing any issues, please call our Global Technical Support directly at (844) 607-8398.

On Wednesday afternoon Pacific Time, a Dexcom spokesman forwarded a lengthy statement, some of which is below, in response to an email request for comment regarding the outage:

Dexcom Follow services have now been restored to full service levels. However, we’re continuing to monitor and stress-test the system. Our teams are also closely monitoring customer feedback, per usual protocol, and routing any isolated issues through our normal tech support channels.

Early on Saturday morning we became aware of an issue with Dexcom Follow that caused some followers to not receive CGM data or alerts. Dexcom Follow is an important feature of our product that many users have come to rely on as part of their diabetes management. Since the issue was identified, our teams have been working around the clock to address it. We are continuing to work cross-functionally with our platform partners to reach full resolution as quickly as possible.

We believe we have identified root cause and our teams are working cross-functionally to confirm. We have determined our Dexcom servers became overloaded, which caused the Follow feature to stop working for some users. In addition, some users experienced log-in issues. As soon as we complete the investigation and have absolute certainty, we will be back in touch with an update on root cause and our path forward.

A Dexcom spokesman said the IT glitch only affected the Follow app and not the core app, and related alarms and alerts. However, several Facebook users reported otherwise, including one that is a “top fan” of the Dexcom Facebook page:

Linda Bryant I’ve been following this thread since yesterday and want to say that the app in the iPhone, receiver and Clarity are not working for everyone even with Bluetooth on. Some of us are getting no readings at all! Please read what is being said and if you are getting your data, be thankful but not critical of others who are experiencing these issues in multiple platforms.

Top Fan
Steven Mays Your Dexcom Follow service is not the only service that is down. Your Clarity service is not working either. Full communication of all service that are down would be nice. A power failure should not affect a major company in this [manner]. A server should have backup power such as a generator. Your server should also have redundancy. Bad form Dexcom… Bad form.
It’s possible that these issues are not tied to the actual IT outage but simply isolated tech issues that users are facing that are still prompting them to express dissatisfaction on Facebook.

Not surprisingly, on Wednesday, Dexcom’s statement seemed to acknowledge that its communications with patients in a time of duress were less than stellar.

Moving forward, we are working to update and improve all of our communication channels, including the addition of a real-time communication system within the Follow app. We have some communications through the app, but it is not optimized and we recognize this is a gap in communication with followers of our users. We are proactively working on this and it will be fast-tracked through our development process.

If the company does that, it will find a well of support from users like Mike Russell, who posted on Nov. 30.

Mike Russell DEXCOM, you have a real opportunity here to cement your leadership! Your monitoring technology is a God-send. But your level of communication shows Ill-preparedness. Yes, this is a holiday weekend, but that’s exactly the time to show that you’re on top of all information, ESPECIALLY on Thanksgiving, when food and the four-day holiday are such a part of the picture. Our hope is that you’ll see these posts and realize that capitalizing to make solid and “relentless“ communication possible 24/7 should be part of your mission, especially in these days of easy push notifications. We thank you for your technology (TRULY), but urge you to round out the picture and know there’s greater focus on communication necessary.

However, failure to learn from this experience might not bode well for Dexcom’s future because no company can rely on customer loyalty forever. Here’s what one user wrote:

Samantha Berg There is absolutely no reason why some kind of alert could not have been sent out to people given all of the information you have on your users (and their families). I look forward to the day when more companies can compete with you so we have the option of switching. I understand technical difficulties happen and wouldn’t be upset had we received an email or text once dexcom discovered the issue.