Today on Health in 2 Point 00, we’re wishing Matthew a happy birthday!
On Episode 90, Jess and I talk about the drama around Amazon PillPack and Surescripts, HelloHeart’s $12 million raise, and Cerner selling its health data. In the end, the data is going to have to flow after this battle between Surescripts and PillPack. For HelloHeart’s blood pressure and cardiovascular health management platform, have they found their niche or is it too little too late with others like Livongo, Omada and Vivify in the space already? Finally, Cerner has put in their earnings call that they’re going to develop a business model around selling their data, sending ePatient Dave on a Tweet storm, but how big of a deal is this really? —Matthew Holt
Here’s a design approach that I really, really dislike: the scrolling wheel that is often used for number entry in iOS apps:
I find that the scrolling wheel makes it very tiresome to enter numbers, and much prefer apps that offer a number pad, or another way to touch the number you need. (Or at least decrease the number at hand in sensible increments.)
You may think I’m being too picky, but I really think our ability to leverage technology will hinge in part on these apps and devices being very usable.
And that usability has to be considered for everyone involved: patients, caregivers, and clinicians.
Why am I looking at an app to enter blood pressure?
Let me start by saying that ideally nobody should be entering vitals data manually. (Not me, not the patient, not the caregivers, not the assisted-living facility staff.)
Instead, we should all be surrounded by BP machines that easily send their data to some computerized system, and said system should then be able to display and share the data without too much hassle.
But, we don’t yet live in this world, to my frequent mild sorrow. This means that it’s still a major hassle to have regular people track what is probably the number one most useful data for us in internal medicine and geriatrics: blood pressure (BP) & pulse.
Why is BP and pulse data so useful, so often?
To begin with, we need this data when people are feeling unwell, as it helps us assess how serious things might be.
And of course, even when people aren’t acutely ill, we often need this data. That’s because most of our patients are either:
Taking medication that affects BP and pulse (like cardiovascular meds, but many others affect as well)
Living with a chronic condition that can affect BP and pulse (such as a-fib)
All the above
As we know, the occasional office-based measurement is a lousy way to ascertain usual BP (which is relevant for chronic meds), and may not capture episodic disturbances.
When it comes to high blood pressure treatment in the elderly, the plot continues to thicken.
Last December, a minor controversy erupted when the JNC hypertension guidelines proposed a higher blood pressure (BP) treatment target (150/90) for adults aged 60+.
And now this month, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that over 3 years, among a cohort of 4961 community-dwelling Medicare patients aged 70+ and diagnosed with hypertension, those on blood pressure medication had more serious falls.
Serious falls as in: emergency room visits or hospitalizations for fall-related fracture, brain injury, or dislocation of the hip, knee, shoulder, or jaw. In other words, we talking about real injuries and real patient suffering. (As well as real healthcare utilization, for those who care about such things.)
How many more serious falls are we talking? The study cohort was divided into three groups: no antihypertensive medication (14.1%), moderate intensity treatment (54.6%), and high-intensity treatment (31.3%).
Over the three year follow-up period, a serious fall injury happened to 7.5% of those in the no-antihypertensive group, 9.8% of the moderate-intensity group, and 8.2% of the high-intensity group. In a propensity-matched subcohort, serious falls happened to 7.1% of the no-treatment group, 8.6% of the moderate-intensity group, and 8.5% of the high-intensity group. (Propensity-matching is a technique meant to adjust for confounders – such as overall illness burden — between the three groups.)
The methodologists in the audience should certainly read the paper in detail and go find things to pick apart. For the rest of us, what are the practical take-aways?
Edna Lavoie has had horrendous blood pressure readings for several decades, but she has never had a stroke or heart attack. Her eye doctor swears her retinae are healthy. Whenever she takes a pill that even begins to normalize her blood pressure, she complains of severe dizziness.
Dwayne Lieber’s home blood pressure cuff never reads anywhere close to our manual office sphygmomanometers, even though it is a good brand that usually seems quite accurate for our other patients who own the same model.
Donald Dickinson and Jane Green seem to be a pair of Jekyll and Hyde characters as far as their blood pressures are concerned; every other visit they seem to have a normal blood pressure in the 125/80 range and the rest of the time their systolic pressures are between 180 and 200.
Blood pressure measurements are routinely done every time a patient visits the doctor and hypertension is one of the most common diagnoses in primary care. A patient’s blood pressure is sometimes done with an automatic cuff, sometimes by the nurse or medical assistant and sometimes by the doctor. It is actually a complicated matter, fraught with problems and potential pitfalls.