The in-person postpartum blood pressure check: For whose benefit?

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While society guidelines continue to recommend the in-person postpartum blood pressure check, this practice is often both unachievable and insufficient for providing the best care for women at risk for adverse outcomes in the postpartum period



CASE Patient questions need for postpartum BP check

Ms. P presents at 28 weeks’ gestation with superimposed preeclampsia. She receives antenatal corticosteroids and titration of her nifedipine, but she is delivered at 29 weeks because of worsening fetal status. Her physician recommends a blood pressure (BP) visit in the office at 7 days postpartum.

She asks, “But can’t I just call you with the BP reading? And what do I do in the meantime?”

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and chronic hypertension remain among the leading causes of maternal morbidity and mortality in the United States and worldwide.1 The postpartum period remains a particularly high-risk time since up to 40% of maternal mortality can occur after delivery. To that end, the 2013 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Hypertension in Pregnancy Task Force recommends postpartum follow-up 7 to 10 days after delivery in women with a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy.2

Why we need to find an alternative approach

Unfortunately, these guidelines are both cumbersome and insufficient. Up to one-third of patients do not attend their postpartum visit, particularly those who are young, uninsured, and nonwhite, a list uncomfortably similar to that for women most at risk for adverse outcomes after a high-risk pregnancy. In addition, the 7- to 10-day visit still represents only a single snapshot of the patient’s BP values rather than an ongoing assessment of symptoms or BP elevation over time. Moreover, studies also have shown that BP in both normotensive and hypertensive women often rises by the fifth day postpartum, suggesting that leaving this large window of time without surveillance may miss an opportunity to detect elevated BP in a more timely manner.3

It is time to break the habit of the in-office postpartum BP check and to evaluate the patient where she is and when she needs it. Research in the last 2 years shows that there are several solutions to our case patient’s question.

Solution 1: The provider-driven system

“Of course. Text us your numbers, and you will hear from the doctor if you need to do anything differently.”

One method that addresses both the communication and safety issues inherent in the 7- to 10-day routine in-office BP check is to have the patient send in her BP measurements for direct clinician review.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania developed a robust program using their Way to Health platform.4 Participating patients text their BP values twice daily, and they receive automated feedback for all values, with additional human feedback in real time from a clinician for severe-range values (>160 mm Hg systolic or >110 mm Hg diastolic). As an added safety measure, a physician reviews all inputted BPs daily and assesses the need for antihypertensive medication for BPs in the high mild range. Using this protocol, the researchers achieved a significant increase in adherence with the recommendation for reporting a BP value in the first 10 days after discharge (from 44% to 92%) as well as having fewer readmissions in the text-messaging arm (4% vs 0%).

Perhaps most impressive, though, is that the technology use eliminated pre-existing racial disparities in adherence. Black participants were as likely as nonblack participants to report a postpartum BP in the text-messaging system (93% vs 91%) despite being less than half as likely to keep a BP check visit (33% vs 70%).5

A similar solution is in place at the University of Pittsburgh, where a text message system on the Vivify platform is used to deliver patient BP measurements to a centralized monitoring team.6 This program is unique in that, rather than relying on a single physician, it is run through a nurse “call center” that allowed them to expand to 3 hospitals with the use of a single centralized monitoring team. To date, the program has enrolled more than 2,000 patients and achieved patient satisfaction rates greater than 94%.

A final program to consider was developed and piloted at the University of Wisconsin with an added technological advance: the use of a Bluetooth-enabled BP cuff that permits values to be automatically transmitted to a tablet that then uploads the information to a centralized database.7 This database was in turn monitored by trained nurses for safety and initiation or titration of antihypertensive medication as needed. Similar to the experience at the University of Pennsylvania, the researchers found improved adherence with monitoring and a notable reduction in readmissions (3.7% in controls vs 0.5% in the intervention arm). Of note, among those who did receive the ongoing monitoring, severe hypertension occurred in 56 (26.2%) of those patients and did so a mean of 6 days after discharge (that is, prior to when they typically would have seen a provider.)

The promise of such provider-driven systems is that they represent a true chronicle of a patient’s ongoing clinical course rather than a single snapshot of her BP in an artificial environment (and often after the highest risk time period!). In addition, direct monitoring by clinicians ensures an optimal safety profile.

Such systems, however, are also extremely resource intense in terms of both upfront information technology investment and ongoing provider surveillance. The systems above also relied on giving the patients a BP cuff, so it is unclear whether it was the technology support or this simple intervention that yielded the benefits. Nonetheless, the benefits were undeniable, and the financial costs saved by reducing even 1 hospital admission as well as the costs of outpatient surveillance may in the end justify these upfront expenditures.

Continue to: Solution 2: The algorithm-driven system...


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