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Lark Hypertension

Tackling Hypertension With Tech

Tackling Hypertension With Tech
Author
Jason Paruthi, MD

Medical Director at Lark

For more than two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has added an additional, chronic stressor to everyone’s plates. For many, it triggered intense, acute stress at the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the day-to-day burden of frontline work. This February, as we celebrate American Heart Month, it’s important to recognize the variety of factors contributing to larger heart health issues, including additional pandemic stress, diet, and lifestyle changes, and what we need to do to make sure that everyone is able to keep their hearts and bodies healthy, even through majorly stressful events.

Many people know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States – about 1 in 4 deaths in the United States. One major risk factor for developing heart disease is high blood pressure, called hypertension. Chronic stress can contribute to hypertension and studies have shown population-level increases in blood pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that more people are at increased risk for heart disease and death now than ever before.

That’s concerning, considering that nearly half of American adults already had hypertension prior to the pandemic. Hypertension is an enormous public health challenge, and one that we’ve been battling for many years. There are many reasons why it’s been so hard to wrap our arms around this condition. First, the sheer scale of the problem makes it difficult to reach every person and get them the kind of support they need, particularly when our health care system is managing the added burden of the pandemic. Second, many of the populations with the highest incidence of hypertension live in rural areas, which makes accessing necessary care even more difficult. Third, the “nearly half of adults” estimate we have for hypertension is likely underrepresenting the real scope of the problem, because about 1 in 5 adults with high blood pressure do not even know they have it.

The good news is that hypertension is largely preventable, or can be well-managed with the right lifestyle behaviors, medical care, and medications when necessary. Many of the things that contribute to a lower, healthier blood pressure and a healthier heart are things that contribute to better overall health, including regular exercise, eating a nutritious diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. This sounds simple enough, but figuring out the right foods to eat or avoid, knowing what kind of physical activity works best for you, and how to make those behavior changes stick can be an overwhelming challenge if you’re facing it alone.

The pandemic had a positive impact in that now more health insurance plans, employers, providers, and patients are recognizing the value of digital or virtual health care tools that can meet people where they are. We designed Lark because we believe that technology can create new, accessible pathways through which those at-risk for or managing chronic conditions like hypertension and heart disease can manage their health and better connect with resources through their providers and health insurance. The reality is that much of the care and support that patients with these kinds of conditions need is outside of the clinic setting. “What does this nutrition label mean?” “Which kind of fats are okay, and which should I avoid?” “What kind of exercise is best for me currently?” These kinds of questions come up at all hours of the day, basically every day, and having a digital coach like Lark right in a patient’s pocket to help them find the answers can make the difference between sustained positive behavior change and falling back into old habits, or choosing unwisely simply because they were uninformed.

Lark’s AI technology means we can truly provide that minute-to-minute support at the scale necessary to tackle our enormous challenges with heart health. And doing it through a familiar, easy-to-use text message interface right on the person’s smartphone makes it easy for them to stay engaged with their health, even if they are in a community where accessing a provider or a telehealth visit is difficult. Additionally, having connected devices like a blood pressure cuff can help people identify that they are at high risk for or have hypertension in the first place, helping to drive more preventive care and reduce the risk for heart attacks or complications down the road.

This Heart Month, Lark is doubling down on our commitment to healthy hearts with the announcement that we have joined the American Heart Association Center for Health Technology & Innovation’s (CHTI) Innovators’ Network. As a member, we’ll be able to collaborate with the CHTI in different ways, including building models for clinical outcome studies, helping connect the science to technology, and studying the effects that a digital platform has on healthcare outcomes – a key priority for providers, payers, employers, and patients.

In the wake of the pandemic, we need to invest in solutions and care that can help prevent the progression of hypertension and heart disease at a population level. The adoption and integration of digital-first solutions can help fill many of the current gaps in our care system, and give people a friendly partner on their journey to improve their heart health. While American Heart Month may be coming to an end, let’s continue to do everything we can to increase access to quality health care and support for all people living with or predisposed to heart disease and other chronic diseases.