Stepping Through a Patient’s Experience with Hypertension: Maintaining control (yearly recheck)

This is fifth of a multi-part series on a patient’s experience managing a chronic condition, in this case hypertension. A diagnosis has been made, and our patient has hopefully followed up and has hopefully been maintained on appropriate therapy (there is a 1 in 3 chance that this is happening). We are now in the maintenance phase, where it is recommended that a patient be checked once per year..

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Patient Story (Frydman)

For today’s post, I am going to paste a dialog I had with Gilles, which contains some follow up questions I had about a new process for managing blood pressure

Ted: Ok, very helpful –

Gilles: I’d say amazingly helpful! See remark at bottom.

Ted: So what if the doctor said, “Your blood pressure in the office is high today. I don’t know if you really have high blood pressure though. Can I show you how to check it at home and will you check it twice a day, in the morning and at night, and then we’ll take the average and decide if you have high blood pressure?”

Would this make you anxious?

Gilles: I don;t think you can answer this question in a unidimensional fashion. It would probably be anxiolytic if this is the first time I heard of HBP. If this is what I hear at a repeat visit I almost certainly will be ready to hear 10 times more details about HBP. But if during the first interaction the doc would say “I don’t know if you really have high blood pressure though. Just in case maybe you could read the following information about HBP” and then give me some URLs like the Medline Plus entry or this one: I think it would definitely prepare for a much better interaction the next time I saw the doc. In fact in case of diagnosis of HBP or changes of BP, I would definitely advocate for this method followed by a second visit not too long after. That is basically what my PCP does with me, whenever there is a change in BP. Follow-up in 1 week/10 days.

Ted: [It turns out that checking throughout the day isn’t really helpful, twice a day is best]

Gilles: That’s good to know. I didn’t know. This is not trivial info and is not easy to find if you are actively looking for it. But it should definitely be part of BP home monitoring guidelines. If you check you will notice no mention of what you just told me.

Ted: Let’s say your blood pressure was high this way. If the doctor said, “I would like to have you be in charge of checking your blood pressure, once every 3 months, for just one 7 day period, twice a day.”

Is this a routine you would be willing to follow?

I do not understand. You mean choose randomly a week during this 3 months window and get 14 basic readings as a result?
I would probably freak out, wanting to get feedback about the results ASAP.

Ted: What if the blood pressure cuff didn’t come from your doctor – what if your employer came to you and said, “For our employees who have high blood pressure, we are going to give them free cuffs to allow them to connect to their doctor.” Do you think this would or would not be a good way to change the ideas about measuring blood pressure, from a privacy perspective?

What if the messages about blood pressure being harmful came from your employer too – would this be welcomed, or would you think, “this is really something I should only get from my doctor?”

Gilles: I am certainly not an example for this. I would certainly distrust any involvement of my employer in health matters.

Ted: Last question – is this discovery, that BP was important to you, something you needed time to make, or do you think you would have made a change sooner if the initial conversation was different?

I think the conversation was not optimal at all. He is a real friend and a great doctor but evidently not the greatest communicator. But the conversation about learning about HBP and developing knowledge about it could very well be done by a trained nurse assistant. I strongly believe that instead of immediately treating it would have been much better to give me a solid dose of info RX. I am sure that I would have been early on a much more compliant patient.

Ted: I looked up what I know about time of day for blood pressure for you – I don’t have an accurate answer about apnea, but it appears that “morning” and “evening” have been selected because they correlate best with the possibility of stroke in the future, actually better than what your doctor would measure during the day.

I found this as well

“In persons successfully treated with CPAP, cessation of treatment causes blood pressure levels to increase, while restarting treatment causes blood pressure levels to fall again.”

from here:

I think your presence will be very helpful next week.

Gilles: I don’t think I would have found this great article. So here is a clear example of how a 2 minutes interaction between a somewhat informed patient and a physician can produce real results. My family has a real history of apnea and I am convinced that there is a real connection. The input from a physician becomes more and more important as one starts to ask precise questions about the potential reasons for the HBP. Yes the internet is great but we all know there is a limit to the benefits. At some point the filtering done by an expert becomes fundamental. Maybe the internet has just shifted the level at which the filtering does occur.
Clinical and Public Health pearls (Houston-Miller and Eytan)

  • Patients are at risk for non-persistence and poor control if they have less than 1 health care visit per year or do not have blood pressure in the last 6 months.
  • The overall US control rate is 36.8%; The Healthy People 2010 goal is 50%.
  • This translates into 10.7 million Californians, with 3.3 million with controlled hypertension, a gap of 7.4 million people. (source)


Where is the data? and What’s Missing? From the conversation above, it appears that there isn’t good understanding about how to monitor blood pressure from home, either on the part of patients, or on the part of the medical profession. Prior to reading the AHA position paper, I did not know that a protocol existed for doing this accurately, and I would gather that most physicians that recommend home monitoring do not provide the guidance that is recommended by the American Heart Association, or desired by our patient.

The impact of this is that a patient may not monitor at the right times or with the right technique, resulting in changes to therapy that are inaccurate. In terms of what’s missing, without clear guidance from a physician besides, “Come in to see me and we’ll check it in my office,” the guideline or protocol is implicitly stated that blood pressure measurement is a physician-centric activity, even if the physician recommends home monitoring.

I of course welcome counter arguments to this hypothesis!

To close things out on the current state of affairs, here’s a slide show of all the pieces put together. Go through them as a group and notice where the data is in each case. Is it localized to the patient? Is the patient supported in engaging in the management of their condition outside of the medical office visit? And what about the stakeholders that are represented but not participating – the connectivity providers, the social networks. Can or should they be involved?

Final question: Should this current state continue? (Loaded question. Hint: Look at the results we’re getting with this approach)

Ted Eytan, MD