Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Enrolling in a pharmacist-led telemonitoring program to manage high blood pressure can reduce a person's risk for a heart attack or stroke by up to 50%, according to a study published Monday in the journal Hypertension.
Just over 5% of people who participated in the program, designed to track blood pressure and adjust treatment, had a heart attack or stroke, needed stent placement surgery or were hospitalized for heart failure, the data showed.
About 10% of people whose treatment was monitored by routine primary care visits experienced these heart problems, the researchers said.
"Home blood pressure monitoring [and] telehealth support in between office visits has been shown to lower blood pressure more than routine care, and patients really like it," study co-author Dr. Karen L. Margolis said in a statement.
"[B]y avoiding serious cardiovascular events over five years, our results indicate significant cost savings," said Margolis, executive director of research at HealthPartners Institute in Minneapolis.
The savings from reduced cardiovascular disease events exceeded the telemonitoring program costs by $1,900 per patient, the researchers said.
In addition, those who participated in the telemonitoring program said that they liked having support from a trusted professional, rapid feedback and adjustments to their treatment -- and having someone to whom they were accountable.
However, "the findings were just short of statistical significance, meaning they could have been due to chance," Margolis said.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the most significant modifiable -- meaning people can change it -- risk factors contributing to death from all causes, according to the American Heart Association.
Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, defined as equal to or greater than 130 mm Hg systolic -- the "top" number -- or 80 mm Hg diastolic -- bottom number -- the association estimates.
Most adults with high blood pressure don't have their numbers under control, the association said.
For this study, Margolis and her colleagues enrolled 450 participants with uncontrolled high blood pressure from 16 primary care clinics within the HealthPartners system in Minnesota. Of these, 222 patients were assigned to the routine primary care group and 228 were placed in the telemonitoring group.
Those in the latter group received one year of remote care managed by a pharmacist. They were able to measure their blood pressure at home and send it electronically to the pharmacist, who then worked with them to make medication and lifestyle changes for their treatment, the researchers said.
In clinic visits for all participants, researchers monitored blood pressure at enrollment, six months, 12 months, 18 months and five years; kept track of any heart attacks, strokes, coronary stents, heart failure hospitalizations and heart-related deaths that occurred; and counted all the costs of their blood pressure-related care and cardiovascular event care.
In the telemonitoring group, 15 serious cardiovascular events occurred -- five non-fatal heart attacks, four non-fatal strokes, five heart failure hospitalizations, two stent placements and one heart-related death among 10 patients, the data showed.
The total event rate was 5.3%, the researchers said.
People in the routine primary care group had 26 serious cardiovascular events -- 11 non-fatal heart attacks, 12 non-fatal strokes, three heart failure hospitalizations and 10 stent placements among 19 patients -- the data showed.
The total event rate is this group was 10.4%, according to the researchers.
Based on these findings, "widespread adoption of the telemonitoring model might help U.S. adults with uncontrolled high blood pressure avoid serious cardiovascular events and reduce health care costs," the researchers said.