A simple, yet sophisticated blood glucose meter - the size of a ball point pen - is making a measurable difference to millions of Americans who suffer from diabetes.

The ExacTech Blood Glucose Monitoring System has been termed "excellent" by Salt Lake specialists who have just completed clinical trials on the new device."Its reliability, accuracy and precision look excellent," Donna Tomky, director of education and research of the Diabetes Health Center, said of the "user-friendly" instrument.

This is good news to the thousands of Utah diabetics who must must control all aspects of their daily life - diet, exercise, medication - to prevent serious complications and even death.

The portable meter is helping diabetics achieve better control of their disease through easier monitoring of their blood glucose levels.

The pen-size device, developed by Baxter Healthcare Corp., uses a new technology called enzyme-electrode coupling to eliminate the wiping, blotting, timing and cleaning necessary with other meters. Patients simply insert a test strip, apply a drop of blood and read their glucose level in 30 seconds - much less than the 45 to 120 seconds required by other systems.

The ExacTech Meter also eliminates the audible beeps and rigidly timed steps of other meters, experts say. And it makes cleaning unnecessary, since blood never enters the meter.

"This is designed for people who are wanting a portable, simple glucose meter," Tomky said. Where conventional meters are bulky and inconvenient, the new meter can be used frequently - and not only at home.

Glucose monitoring is critical in the management of diabetes, a chronic condition that afflicts some 75,000 to 80,000 Utahns.

By monitoring glucose levels in their blood, patients with diabetes can determine if the levels are too high or too low and respond appropriately. The goal is to maintain blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible.

Some 40,000 Utah residents are known diabetics and must monitor their blood glucose level two to 10 times a day. Another 35,000 to 40,000 residents have the disease and don't know it.

Chuck Hand, executive director of the Utah Diabetes Association, said people who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes should be checked annually for the disease. Pregnant women should be screened by their obstetrician at 24 and 28 weeks.

The ExacTech Blood Glucose Monitoring System is available to Utahns through medical supply outlets.