By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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More than 300 hospitals, clinics, healthcare centers and health systems serving a combined 32 million patients have joined a nationwide initiative launched last November to lower Americans’ blood pressure.

The American Heart Association and American Medical Association’s Target: BP program gives doctors tools and science-based recommendations for preventing, diagnosing and treating high blood pressure, a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. But it is the program’s patient support component, which many clinics and office-based providers lack, that is drawing the attention of centers such as Central Texas-based Lone Star Circle of Care.

Lone Star Circle of Care’s 17 sites help about 71,000 underserved patients — from children to seniors — with all types of health issues, including high blood pressure. The center’s chief medical information officer Tracy Angelocci, M.D., said that impending healthcare payment reforms will require providers such as Lone Star Circle of Care to show acceptable clinical results in order to be reimbursed. Clinical decision support tools embedded in electronic health records can assist providers in reaching clinical goals, such as blood pressure control.

What’s often missing, Angelocci said, is the patient engagement component — in other words, what patients do to control their blood pressure once they leave the doctor’s office.

Through Target: BP, Lone Star Circle of Care’s electronic health records automatically help providers quickly determine whether a patient is on the correct combination of blood pressure medications. Even conversations about lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, not smoking and sticking to a nutrition plan for blood pressure control, are documented in the patient’s health record, said Lindsey Ripley, program design manager at Lone Star Circle of Care.

While it’s too early to know whether plugging into Target: BP will increase the percentage of patients getting their blood pressure down below the threshold of 140/90 mmHg, Angelocci said Target: BP’s extensive patient support options could be key for improving blood pressure control.

“[Providing patients with] continued mentoring, support and a social network of other hypertensive patients — we really think that’s the key to driving behavior change,” Angelocci said.

Providing a big boost to the program is Health Choice Network, a consortium of 27 community health centers in nine states. Last month, the company announced it plans to enroll more than 635,000 high blood pressure patients in Target: BP.

National statistics suggest there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to blood pressure control. Nearly one in three American adults has high blood pressure, but more than half do not have it under control, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The goal of the new effort is to take a sometimes fragmented approach to diagnosing and treating high blood pressure and create a unified strategy that gets providers and patients on the same page.

Having a large-scale, standardized approach to blood pressure control has already been shown to reduce high blood pressure in communities. A 2013 study by Kaiser Permanente researchers showed that blood pressure control rates rose dramatically — from 44 percent to 80 percent — after a hypertension program was implemented in Northern California in 2001.

Gregg Fonarow, M.D., a professor of medicine and co-chief of cardiology at UCLA, is on the steering committee for the AHA’s Get With The Guidelines, a voluntary program that helps hospital teams provide the latest evidence-based care.

He said that by giving healthcare providers the tools they need to get their patients’ blood pressures under control, “substantial improvements in cardiovascular health can be achieved.”

Editor’s Note: The 9th paragraph was deleted July 29, 2016, to remove references to a separate blood pressure program.

Editor’s Note: This story was written when high blood pressure was considered 140/90 or higher. New guidelines released in November 2017 changed the definition to 130/80.