Tech

Digital health tools could help reduce heart disease risk factors, study finds

The results are “very significant.”
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

Digital health tools could help patients trying to lower their risk for heart disease, a new study published Friday in the Journal of the American Heart Association found.

Researchers analyzed more than 100,000 people who used digital therapeutic company Hello Heart’s mobile app and heart health monitor over a span of five years and saw reductions in blood pressure (BP), total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDLC), and weight—all major risk factors for heart disease, according to the study.

These researchers included Edo Paz—lead author of the study, Hello Heart’s SVP of medical affairs, and a cardiologist at White Plains Hospital in New York—and clinical leaders from Hello Heart, CVS Health, Aetna, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the American Heart Association’s Center for Health Technology and Innovation.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death across genders and most racial and ethnic groups, according to the CDC. It’s also expensive for the healthcare industry: In one year between 2018 and 2019, for example, heart disease cost an estimated $239 billion in healthcare services, medicines, and lost productivity, according to one study cited by the CDC.

How did they do it?

The Hello Heart heart mobile app uses artificial intelligence and behavioral science to provide personalized coaching to participants that aligns with clinical guidelines. For the research, the app received data from multiple sources: Through the connected heart monitor, it recorded a user’s BP and heart rate. It also integrated data from medical records and apps like fitness trackers, and depended on users to manually input information about their medications, according to the study.

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In the study, some participants whose systolic BP was at a baseline above 140 mm Hg—i.e., the top number on the monitor was in the red—reduced that number by 19 mm Hg after two years of using Hello Heart. Those with total cholesterol levels above 240 mg/dL reduced it by 66 mg/dL after more than a year in the program.

These are “very significant” reductions, Paz told Healthcare Brew.

And there’s some evidence to back up his claim: One 2015 study in journal The Lancet found that reducing systolic blood pressure by just 10 mm Hg can significantly lower the risk of heart disease and other major cardiovascular disease events.

Zoom out

The study of Hello Heart comes as digital health tools have risen in popularity. Remote patient monitoring (RPM), which often relies on digital tools to connect patients and physicians outside of clinical settings, exploded during the pandemic. Other emerging digital health tech includes mobile monitoring apps and wearable devices.

But as these apps and other technologies become more common, more researchers are striving to analyze their effectiveness, with mixed results.

Digital tools like text message reminders and virtual coaching can help manage hypertension in populations that experience health disparities, according to one study published in JAMA. But digital tools designed to monitor Type 2 diabetes, including mobile apps with coaching, have failed to benefit patients while increasing their spending on healthcare, according to a report from the Peterson Health Technology Institute.

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.