Before the COVID-19 pandemic increased the need for telehealth care, HealthPartners had been delivering care virtually for more than a decade through Virtuwell. And researchers at HealthPartners Institute were studying the potential benefits of telemonitoring for one of the most common chronic conditions: high blood pressure.

In fact, Institute researchers designed an innovative study involving 450 patients that looked at how remote check-ins with pharmacists might impact their blood pressure. And results indicate that lowering blood pressure may be just the start of the benefits of this telemonitoring.

How the blood pressure telemonitoring study worked

About half of the patients routinely logged blood pressure measurements at home, while also having phone calls with pharmacists every few weeks. After six months of intensive remote monitoring, these patients reduced their check-ins with pharmacists to once every two months.

Patients who were not participating in regular check-ins continued to receive standard care for their blood pressure.

Key findings: Telemonitoring may contribute to health benefits beyond lowering blood pressure

After two years of monitoring these patients, researchers found that a telehealth relationship with a pharmacist significantly reduced the patients’ blood pressure compared to those who received standard care. But that’s not where the story ends.

When researchers checked in on the group five years later, they found people who participated in telehealth monitoring were seeing benefits beyond better blood pressure management.

The group that had check-ins with pharmacists saw 15 cardiac events among 10 patients over five years, while the group that received standard of care saw 26 cardiac events among 19 patients.

The estimated costs for these cardiac events were $758,000 for the group of patients that received the telehealth intervention and $1,538,000 for the group of patients that received the standard of care. This translated to a net cost-savings of about $1,900 per patient.

Lead researcher Karen Margolis, MD, says the blood pressure differences alone don’t explain why each group had such different results.

Dr. Margolis believes the continued benefits are likely due to pharmacists supporting patients in a more comprehensive way. Thanks to regular remote check-ins, pharmacists were likely helping patients address their cholesterol, smoking, weight, stress management and other medications. Together with the blood pressure improvements, this could account for the benefits on longer-term health.

Advancing telemonitoring to improve patient care

Now the Institute is exploring how to incorporate some of the telemonitoring practices used in the study into our health system’s patient care models.

As virtual care needs and opportunities continue to change how we care for patients, it’s innovations like these that can improve their experiences, and overall health and well-being.

Check out more of HealthPartners Institute’s work