OBJECTIVES: To examine whether or not self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) is worthwhile, in terms of glycaemic control, hypoglycaemia, quality of life (QoL) and cost per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY), in people with type 2 diabetes (T2DM) who were not treated with insulin or who were on basal insulin in combination with oral agents. DATA SOURCES: Literature searched included systematic reviews published since 1996, and a systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) identified from the reviews, and from searches for more recent trials, along with review of qualitative and economic studies. Search strategies were limited to the English language and to articles published since 1996, and included: databases searched from 1996 to April 2009 - The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Web of Science - limited to meeting abstracts; and websites. REVIEW METHODS: The intervention was self-testing of blood glucose with a meter and test strips. Studies included adult patients with T2DM on any oral treatment or combination of regimens, including lifestyle, oral agents or once-daily basal insulin. Existing systematic reviews of SMBG were summarised and results compared. Evidence synthesis of all of the studies meeting the inclusion criteria was carried out using a narrative review. Data were analysed by outcome and subgroups. HbA1c data from RCTs were summarised using a meta-analysis. Heterogeneity was calculated using the chi-squared and I2 methods. The following analyses were carried out: SMBG compared to self-monitoring of urine glucose, SMBG versus no SMBG, more intensive SMBG versus less intensive SMBG, and more intensive SMBG versus no SMBG. Available qualitative data gained from in-depth interview studies, repeated interviews, and questionnaire and survey data were summarised. RESULTS: The review identified 30 RCTs, although few were of high quality. Ten trials comparing SMBG with no SMBG showed statistically significant reduction in HbA1C of 0.21%, which may not be considered clinically significant. A similar, though not statistically significant difference, was shown where SMBG with education was compared to SMBG without education or feedback. RCTs showed no consistent effect on hypoglycaemic episodes and no impact on medication changes. Review of cost-effectiveness studies showed that costs of SMBG per annum vary considerably (10-259 pounds). Although some studies assert that SMBG may lead to savings in health-care costs which may offset the costs of testing, the best analysis to date (DiGEM - Diabetes Glycaemic Education and Monitoring) concluded that SMBG was not cost-effective. Qualitative studies revealed that there was a lack of education in how to interpret and use the data from SMBG, and that failure to act on the results was common. CONCLUSIONS: The evidence suggested that SMBG is of limited clinical effectiveness in improving glycaemic control in people with T2DM on oral agents, or diet alone, and is therefore unlikely to be cost-effective. SMBG may lead to improved glycaemic control only in the context of appropriate education - both for patients and health-care professionals - on how to respond to the data, in terms of lifestyle and treatment adjustment. Also, SMBG may be more effective if patients are able to self-adjust drug treatment. Further research is required on the type of education and feedback that are most helpful, characteristics of patients benefiting most from SMBG, optimal timing and frequency of SMBG, and the circumstances under which SMBG causes anxiety and/or depression.