A Better Way to Control Blood Pressure


November 17, 2023

My Bing AI engine, when prompted, tells me that there are about 87 journals, 45 conferences, and 53 workshops presently dedicated exclusively to hypertension. All of that attention, and yet…

What is going on?

George D. Lundberg, MD

The top killers of Americans remain coronary artery heart disease (26%), cancer (22%), and stroke (6%). The precursors and attributable risk factors for coronary artery heart disease include hypertension (40%), obesity (20 %), diabetes (15%), and combustible tobacco use (15%). The key precursors and attributable risk factors for stroke are hypertension (53 %), obesity (37%), diabetes (9%), and combustible tobacco use (11%). Obviously, these are estimates, with substantial overlap.

It's pretty obvious that if the population and the healthcare systems of the United States were seriously interested in saving lives, they would strive diligently to control blood pressure, prevent obesity and diabetes, and eliminate combustible tobacco use.

We have addressed improving tobacco control and preventing obesity and diabetes on these Medscape pages many times, and lamented the medical, public health, and societal failings. Today we turn our attention to the control of hypertension. That is much easier and far less expensive.

All physicians and medical organizations know that hypertension is a major attributable cause of many serious, expensive, and fatal illnesses. As many as 119 million (48%) of American adults have hypertension. The American Heart Association (AHA), American Medical Association (AMA), American College of Cardiology (ACC), and hundreds of other organizations have set a new target of 130/80 (revised from 140/90) for blood pressure control and have launched a major initiative, Target: BP, to reach it.

That is just great. We all wish this massive effort to succeed where few others have. But do AHA, AMA, ACC, and others understand why most efforts to this point have failed? The blame is typically aimed at patients failing to adhere to their instructions. Maybe, but why? And how does Target: BP intend to convert chronic failure into success if it just continues to do everything they have been trying to do that don't work?

At this point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that fewer than 48% of American patients with hypertension meet even the less stringent historical 140/90 goal.

A group practice in Ohio, PriMed Physicians, has consistently exceeded 90% or even 95% blood pressure control for its patients with hypertension for more than 10 years. Exemplary. How do they do it? This video of the 13th annual Lundberg Institute lecture describes this unique and successful program.

PriMed's clinicians use the MedsEngine AI tool from MediSync and the NICaS (noninvasive cardiac system with impedance cardiography) to determine each patient's unique blood pressure pathophysiology. Clinicians and patients understand that the simplest explanation of this pathophysiology encompasses three factors: (1) the volume of "water" (blood) in the system; (2) the strength of the pumping (pulsatile) process; and (3) the tightness (resistance) of the tubes that carry the blood. Patients "get it" when it is explained this way, and they cooperate.

At the first patient encounter, the FDA-approved PhysioFlow is employed to assess those three vital hemodynamic factors. The individual patient's data are loaded into a tightly programed EHR-based algorithm with 37 clinical factors and five classes of drugs, providing multiple ways to influence the three key pathophysiologic processes. In this way, they arrive at the precise drug(s) and dosages for that patient. During the second visit, most patients are already showing improvement. By the third visit, the blood pressures of most patients have reached target control. After that, it is maintenance and tweaking.

These factors summarize why it works:

  • Senior management belief, commitment, and leadership

  • Informed buy-in from clinicians and patients

  • A test that determines root causes of too much fluid, too strong pump action, or too tight pipes, and their proportionality

  • An AI tool that matches those three pathophysiologic factors and 35 other clinical factors with the best drug or drugs (of many, not just a few) and dosages

  • Persistent clinician-patient follow-up

  • Refusal to accept failure

Since this approach is so successful, why is its use not everywhere?

It is not as if nobody noticed, even if you (the usual Medscape reader) and many organizations have not. The American Medical Group Association recognized the program's success by giving its top award to PriMed in 2015.

Klepper and Rodis wrote about this approach for managing multiple chronic conditions in 2021. Here's a background article and an explainer, Clinical Use of Impedance Cardiography for Hemodynamic Assessment of Early Cardiovascular Disease and Management of Hypertension.

I found one pragmatic controlled clinical trial of impedance cardiography with a decision-support system from Beijing that did demonstrate clinical and statistical significance.

Frankly, we do need more rigorous, unbiased, large, controlled clinical trials assessing the MedsEngine and NICaS approach to managing blood pressure to facilitate a massive switch from the old and established (but failing) approach to a starkly better way.

Almost no one ever "completes a database." All decision makers must act based upon the best data to which they have access. Data are often incomplete. The difference between success and mediocrity is often the ability of an individual or system to decide when enough information is enough and act accordingly.

Cost-effectiveness studies in three countries (United Kingdom, United States, and China) confirm sharply lower lifelong costs when blood pressure is well controlled. Of course.

For the American Medical Industrial Complex, lowered costs for managing common serious diseases may be an undesired rather than a good thing. In money-driven medicine, lower costs to the payer and purchaser translate to less revenue for the providers. Imagine all of those invasive and noninvasive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures forgone by prevention of hypertension. Is it possible that such an underlying truth is the real reason why American medicine is habitually unsuccessful at controlling blood pressure?

Right now, if my blood pressure were not well controlled (it is), I would find my way to Cincinnati, Ohio, to give PriMed physicians, MediSync and MedsEngine a crack at prolonging my useful life.

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