Targeting blood pressure

The program builds upon a growing incorporation of at-home technologies in treating certain medical conditions.

And hypertension might be one of the best candidates for this new tech.

“It’s pretty much a symptomless disease, so there’s little incentive” to go to a doctor’s office and get your blood pressure checked, said Dr. Naomi Fisher, director of hypertension services and innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and the lead author of the new study.

Fisher told Healthline the current methods for treating hypertension are not sustainable and not effective enough.

Those methods involve going to a doctor’s office to get blood pressure measured, and returning for follow-up visits to ensure the medication and other treatments are doing enough to control blood pressure levels.

The new system would eliminate those steps and free up doctors and nurses to spend time with other patients, Fisher said.

She noted that pieces of the system have been used before, but putting them together to create a “closed-loop treatment program” is what’s new.

In such a program, a “patient navigator” reviews the measurements that patients collect twice a day and adjusts medication every two weeks.

Meeting guidelines

That’s exactly in line with the most recent guidelines for treating hypertension issued by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, according to Dr. Robert Carey, co-chair of the guidelines writing committee and a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Those guidelines recommend taking advantage of the new wave of home monitoring technologies, Carey told Healthline.

But, he noted, that recommendation is predicated on having someone who is knowledgeable about hypertension reviewing the data to monitor changes in blood pressure and recommend treatment changes.

“We reviewed the literature and found that by itself, home blood pressure monitoring really does nothing to improve blood pressure or mortality,” Carey said. “But when it’s combined with clinical care changes, home blood pressure monitoring does have a good chance of improving blood pressure.”

ALS: A new therapy may be in sight

The new study, he said, is “right down the lines of what we need and is consistent with the recommendations.”

The system is already being rolled out to other patients. Fisher said AllWays Health Partners is providing it to its customers with high blood pressure.

“They’ve already done the cost calculations and determined it’s going to be beneficial to them” in terms of saving costs on treating hypertension and especially from the costs of potential complications from it, Fisher said.

She noted “an obvious next step” could be to phase out the navigators and make the system fully automated with artificial intelligence.

But that’s complicated because she believes the “human touch can’t be overvalued” in terms of keeping patients committed to the program and taking the twice-daily measurements.

And, she said, not having to rely on doctors already saves a lot of money.

But further advances are almost certainly going to come.

 

Asked whether at-home monitoring systems are just a little bit more convenient or an actual game changer for hypertension patients, Carey picked the latter.

“I think it’s a game changer because many patients are not able to get back, for one reason or another, for their follow-up visits, and their blood pressure remains uncontrolled,” he said. “So this is a way of obtaining the data and making the adjustments that are necessary without an office visit.”

Patients should still try to have in-person follow-up visits, he noted, but this technology could be “a real save of time and give you more efficiency.”

The bottom line

Researchers have developed a new system in which patients with high blood pressure can take blood pressure readings at home that are automatically transmitted to a database that is checked by a person trained to analyze them.

That person can then recommend adjusting the patient’s blood pressure medications accordingly.

The program has the potential to save time and money and improve health outcomes.

And it builds on a growing availability of new at-home monitoring tools, which health organizations are now recommending be incorporated into treatment plans.