Sunday, October 4, 2015

Conservative, Liberal, or Relevant Blood Pressure? We need studies that are really relevant...

The following is a guest post from Robert Bowman, MD

One set of guidelines says to loosen up blood pressure control to prevent consequences such as falls. Almost in reaction there appears a new study that indicates a need to, perhaps, tighten up control to reduce the potential for stroke or heart disease. When British GPs were paid more to address BP there did not seem to be gains, other than better pay for participating GPs. Time after time we seem to have cutting edge studies that are pro-intervention. They remain until longer and bigger studies come out years later indicating problems or limitations involving the once “cutting edge” pro-intervention studies.

The lives of millions of people can be impacted by hypertension guidelines. How can we best deal with blood pressure issues?

The answer is not likely to be found in guidelines, quality measures, reports, or the latest studies.

The answer is more about process and less about print.

The problem with guidelines that are too liberal or too conservative is the same – they are too distant from the real world. The real problem remains the failure to include many of those most important to the process.

The real world in health care is what is happening at home. What is the real world for elderly patients? What happens when you get up at night to go to the bathroom? Do you get up at night more because of your medications or because of how you take them? Do your physicians coordinate the addition and subtraction of medications – including drugs that impact blood pressure or fluid volumes? With more and more medications there are more potential interactions. What happens when you get up from a chair or sofa? When you lose 10 or 15 pounds, do your medications drop your blood pressure to dangerous levels? Do you even have contact with a health care professional to help look out for the problem of weight loss and medications that are suddenly too effective?

We know about the benefits of blood pressure control, but do we know about the consequences of too much control?

Sadly we know less about the risk of blood pressure that is kept too low, the risk that a fall that may belife or lifestyle ending will occur.For example, should our blood pressure goals be more aggressive in men or in those with proven bone stability while being less aggressive with those likely to suffer greater consequences becaue they have osteopenia, osteoporosis, or other conditions? We often assume linear increase in risk, but this may not be the case.

What Is Missing from “Guidelines?”

With control of BP or coagulation or other treatments that defeat how the body adjusts to change, the patient and family must have the best understanding regarding what the drugs do and how the drugs impact their particular body and situations.

Large scale studies can be helpful, but the studies need to be relevant. Studies should reflect the real world. After three hundred recent home visits, observations indicated a few with perhaps lax control that may, just may have problems in 1, 5, or 10 years. There are also a different few of the 300 who are having falls or symptoms that suggest the potential for falls - with the potential of immediate consequences. Many large studies examine only the outcome of interest to the researchers – such as the rate of strokes in people with uncontrolled blood pressure – rather than the overall rate of harm or death to the people involved. In addition, many studies exclude from participation people who have the risk factors most likely to cause them harm. Studies that do examine all outcomes (“all-cause morbidity and mortality”) are of more value, and we need to be sure that the people we are treating in the “real world” are similar to those studied.

And then there is the problem of getting reliable BP measurements at the office or at home. How many people do we overtreat based on office-only measurements when lower home BP measurements are more relevant? How do we best use ambulatory measurements? Are these accessed and priced in ways that can make a difference?

A final reflection may be more relevant. In the 5 or 6 minutes of face-to-face time that is often all that exists, given current payment design, how do we get to know our patients well enough in our office environment to optimize BP control while minimizing the consequences to them as they live in their world? How do we teach them enough to loosen up medication when necessary to help prevent falls?

Addressing Problems and Solutions

One thing is certain. As long as research is distant and irrelevant, guidelines will contribute to too much negative consequence and not enough gain.

Practice-based research could contribute. But the real potential involves home-based research. The irrelevance of the academic setting and even the office was suggested by the founders of family medicine. What matters most is far away from university hospitals and NIH researchers. Lest we forget, the home – and the community -- is where it all happens.

Follow up to come:
Why the Home is the Best Unit of Analysis for Research

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