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Prescribing mHealth: One strategy proves helpful for blood pressure control

Many patients who resist taking a blood pressure drug are willing to try a combination wearable device and phone app that helps them control their own blood pressure, said Laura Wilt at a recent Stanford symposium on mobile health.

Wilt (second from left in the photo), who is the senior vice president & chief information officer of Ochsner Health System, said the nonprofit’s research has shown that while just two-thirds of hypertension patients will take a blood pressure drug, 90 percent will opt for technology that tracks their blood pressure for them and helps them improve lifestyle choices that affect hypertension.

That’s good news, but presents a challenge, Wilt said — how to make it easy for providers to prescribe the tech approach. Doctors prescribing a digital-medicine approach to hypertension would need to be able to help patients choose the best wearable device, the most appropriate app and even interpret the resulting data.

But most providers just don't have time for that. In fact, an overload of bookkeeping tasks like these are a known cause of physician burnout, Wilt said.

Enter Wilt's organization, Louisiana-based Ochsner Health, which helps patients get started. Once a patient has been diagnosed with hypertension, the doctor can write a prescription for a visit to Ochsner Health's O Bar, patterned after Apple’s Genius Bar. “Geniuses” at the O Bar help patients choose the best wearable device for them and an appropriate app.

The goal is to make it as easy for doctors to prescribe a mobile device and app as it is to prescribe a single medication, Wilt said. Patients have access to their data, which is also in electronic medical record and is available for providers and a specialty pharmacist who reviews the data and suggests changes in medication and lifestyle.

And the approach works, says Wilt. “We have seen a very high hypertension control rate after 90 days." A recent study showed that among patients treated traditionally, only 31 percent reduced their blood pressure to a healthy level. In contrast, 71 percent of patients in the digital medicine group were able to control their blood pressure.

Wilt emphasized that providing services like the O Bar, which doesn't rely on physicians, has been key to its success. She also noted that traditional clinical trials look at outcome measures taken no more often than once a day or once a week. Wearable devices can generate nearly continuous data. “Nobody knows what to think about [the amount of data],” she said.

Wilt’s talk was just one in a series of panels and short talks during the afternoon event sponsored by the Stanford Mobilize Center and the Mobile Sensor Data-to-Knowledge Center of Excellence.

The symposium panels and talks were video recorded and are available on YouTube.

Previously: Wearable sweat sensor can diagnose disease, Stanford-led study findsStanford study shows wearable sensors can tell when you're getting sick and On the move: Big Data in Biomedicine goes mobile with discussion on mHealth
Photo courtesy of Joy Ku

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