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Cell Phone 'Telemonitoring' May Help Control Blood Pressure

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Diabetics may soon find that assistance in controlling their blood pressure is just a cell phone screen away.

Researchers are now exploring the potential of a new mobile phone monitoring system that automatically picks up patients' home blood pressure readings, which is then sent out wirelessly via radio signals from monitoring equipment outfitted with Blue-tooth technology.

The cell phones are pre-programmed to transmit the blood pressure readings and receive appropriate feedback (which appear instantly on the cell phone screen).

Good readings may prompt a message of "Congratulations," while problematic results may trigger a message advising the patients to make a check-up appointment with their doctor. The interactive system may also instruct patients to take more readings over a specified period of time to get a more reliable overall reading.

What's more, if any two-week or three-day period exceeds a pre-set average reading threshold, the patient's doctor would be automatically notified. In addition, doctors would be able to log online to check their patient's readings.

Dr. Alexander G. Logan, from the University of Toronto, is slated to discuss the experimental monitoring system Wednesday at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Chicago.

One expert said the technology can provide a valuable service.

"Telemonitoring provides information regarding a patient's progress and condition between physician visits, and assists clinicians in identifying patients who have early symptoms of a more serious condition that, if left untreated, may require acute care, like hospitalization," explained Dr. Peter Rutherford, medical director at Wenatchee Valley Medical Center in Wenatchee, Wash.

"In the end," he said, "the patient's engagement in the program, coupled with the case manager's involvement in the patient's care and the physician's practice, is a vital piece of the disease management puzzle."

In the preliminary study, Logan and his colleagues have found that after using the cell phone-based device for a year, patients with uncontrolled systolic hypertension dramatically improved their ability to control their blood pressure. In that time frame, systolic blood pressure readings among patients using the system dropped by 9.1 mm Hg, compared with just a 1.6 mm Hg decrease observed among their counterparts with uncontrolled systolic hypertension who relied on standard blood pressure monitoring equipment.

More than a third of the patients (37 percent) using the cell phone system were able to get their blood pressure under control, compared with just 14.2 percent of those using standard equipment.

"This study shows how simple interactive technology may help revolutionize preventive care, which relies on the synergy of the physician and the patient," added another expert, Dr. Tara Narula, a clinical cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

She believes the research, "highlights the future of medicine by a dual approach whereby physicians can reach beyond the confines of the clinic setting and patients are empowered to take control of their own health."

Testing of the cell phone-based method will continue as Logan and his team try to determine what aspects of the new system account for the improved results.

Rutherford cautioned that, "regardless of the type of telemonitoring system that is used, there will be an impact on the patient's care based on what clinicians do with the information that is collected. In order to have a successful telemonitoring program, there needs to be an integrated system where clinicians provide the right level of intervention, based on the information provided, whether it is adjustments to medication or having the patient see their physician."

Since the research is to be presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

For more on blood pressure monitoring and diabetes, visit the American Heart Association.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: Tara Narula, MD, clinical cardiologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Peter Rutherford, MD, Medical Director at Wenatchee Valley Medical Center in Wenatchee, Wash; American Heart Association Meeting, November 17, 2010, news release.

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