Back to basics: High-tech blood pressure monitors don't outperform standard cuffs, study finds

Blood pressure monitoring technology has come a long way in the century since the first inflatable cuff was introduced. Newer models offer digital readings and smartphone connectivity and have even begun to ditch the cuffs in favor of slimmed-down sensors.

But in a rare exception to the usual rules of technological advancement, a new study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that those high-tech bells and whistles haven’t contributed to any major improvement in clinical outcomes.

In fact, the study’s authors concluded, “enhanced self-monitoring of blood pressure using a device paired with a connected smartphone application is not more effective than standard self-monitoring.”

Led by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the study randomly sent out either a basic blood pressure monitor or a Bluetooth-connected version—both developed by Omron Healthcare—to a pool of more than 2,000 people across the U.S. who were aiming to lower their blood pressure.

The study team took specific care to recruit a diverse group of participants, because, as a UCSF news release noted, “uneven management of hypertension plays a significant role in the disproportionate effect cardiovascular disease has on Black communities.” Ultimately, more than 30% of the resulting pool identified as Black or Hispanic.

Participants who received the upgraded device were able to link their personal smartphones to the Omron Connect app, which sends reminders to take regular measurements, tracks those readings and organizes them into a single report—complete with data visualization, analysis and annotations—that can be automatically shared with the user’s doctors.

By the end of the six-month study period, those using the basic cuff had reduced their blood pressure by an average of 10.6 mmHg compared to a 10.8 mmHg drop for those using the high-tech devices, indicating no statistically significant difference between the two. The enhanced technology didn’t even win out in terms of usability, as the study’s participants reported about the same satisfaction with both technologies.

Those results prove that—for the time being, at least—there’s no need to shell out the big bucks for a smartphone-connected at-home monitor, which can retail for as much as $140. Instead, people can simply choose a monitor style they personally prefer, the researchers concluded.

“There’s a cost issue with the Bluetooth devices, and the time and effort involved in connecting them to a smartphone is really not trivial. As it turns out, there doesn’t appear to be any benefit to any of that,” Mark Pletcher, M.D., the study’s corresponding author and a UCSF professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, said in the release. “What seems to matter is engagement and support from healthcare providers.”

Next up, Pletcher and his team plan to see whether high-tech approaches aimed at replicating that engagement are more effective at helping control blood pressure. According to the UCSF release, the researchers are looking in particular at smartwatchlike monitors that would take regular readings without requiring any action from the wearer.