If you thought cell phones were just for talking and texting, think again. A new study shows how Bluetooth-enabled cell phones can help diabetic patients keep their blood pressure (BP) in check by monitoring it remotely.
In the study, diabetic patients with uncontrolled blood pressure were given BP monitors to use at home. In addition, half of the patients were also given cell phones that automatically transmitted their BP readings from the BP monitor to a remote system.
There was a significant difference in the blood pressure of the patients who used the cell phone system vs. those who used the standard method: the systolic pressure (the top number in a BP reading) of patients in the cell phone group had dropped by an average of 9.1 mmHg, vs. only 1.6 mmHg in the control group.
The patients could view the readings on their phones and they received immediate feedback, which ranged from "Congratulations" to instructions for taking more frequent measurements for a more accurate reading. If readings were particularly alarming, the cell phone might urge the patient to make a doctor’s appointment.
After one year, there was a significant difference in the BPs of the patients who used the cell phone system vs. those who used the standard method: the systolic pressure (the top number in a BP reading) of patients in the cell phone group had dropped by an average of 9.1 mmHg, vs. only 1.6 mmHg in the control group. Even more, 37% of patients in the cell phone group got their BP under control by the study’s end, vs. only 14% of patients in the control group.
Why was blood pressure lower in the group of patients using the cell phone method? While it’s not completely clear, the researchers say that the system was "designed to actively engage hypertensive patients in their own care and enhance communication with physicians." This suggests that the system may have allowed patients to take a more active role in monitoring their own BP and feeling that their doctors were also part of the process. The immediate on-screen feedback likely played a major role in helping patients become active players in the BP monitoring process.
The current study is one of many new ones underlying the use of technology in helping people become healthier, more active participants in their own medical care.
The study was conducted at the University of Toronto and presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association on November 17, 2010.