April 6, 2020

Telemedicine promises better care, more time for doctors and blood pressure patients

The blood pressure cuff has been a staple of doctors’ offices for decades, but for many people managing hypertension getting a reading during an appointment isn’t actually the best approach. 

Now, an Edmonton start-up is hoping to make it easier for both patients and doctors to keep a closer eye on blood pressure while cutting down on office visits.

“Clinical guidelines across the world have emphasised the importance of home measurement. It’s the most accurate way, it’s the most effective way,” said Dr. Raj Padwal, CEO of mmHg Inc. 

In his work as a hypertension specialist, Dr. Padwal, however, found home measurements to have their pitfalls. It usually means the patient has to take home readings for weeks or months, then make an appointment to share that data with their doctor. Then the physician has to spend time calculating an average from those dozens of readings. This process might be repeated many times over as the doctor makes adjustments to the treatment plan.

It’s a lot of time spent both by the patient and the provider. So, it often just doesn’t happen. “That makes a lot of people give up and just use their crummy office reading,” he said. 

Less screen time, more patient time

Dr. Padwal thought that technology might be the cure. The idea was born about four years ago. He was involved in a grant, funded by Alberta Innovates and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to study the effectiveness of remote blood pressure monitoring in senior’s homes. 

photo of Raj Padwal and Peter Wood of mmHg Inc
Raj Padwal and Peter Wood of mmHg Inc

He teamed up with another researcher in the study — Peter Wood, now COO of mmHg Inc — to develop a solution that would work not just for seniors, but for anyone who had to manage blood pressure or blood glucose levels. 

The result was Sphygmo Home. The free phone app allows patients to key in their results, either manually or automatically from certain monitoring devices, and send them right to their physician. They can also link to other caregivers, even family members.

Sphygmo can do much of the calculation currently shouldered by doctors, and it offers ways of communicating with patients remotely and a dashboard, so providers can easily track patient progress.

“That means I can use all of my time talking to my patient, instead of staring at a screen because I have already gone over all the information prior to starting the visit,” Dr. Padwal said. 

Partnerships aim for better readings

mmHg’s innovations have found another home as well. The company has partnered with Pharmasmart, whose in-pharmacy kiosks take millions of blood pressure readings a week across North America, to develop a better algorithm for their devices.

While the new algorithm is still undergoing clinical testing, Dr Padwal is hopeful that it will lead to more accurate readings for the millions that use Pharmasmart’s stations. 

“It’s extremely important. An incorrect blood pressure can result in overprescribing of medicine or, conversely, lack of blood pressure control,” he said. 

He added that this sort of partnership is valuable for a growing start-up like mmHG, as it helps his team translate their academic expertise into a commercially-viable product. 

Much of the funding for these telemonitoring innovations has come from Alberta Innovates, through the Accelerating Innovations into CarE (AICE) Program, the Alberta Small Business Innovation and Research Initiative (ASBIRI) Program, and the federal government. Dr. Padwal says the funding has been “instrumental” in both the creation of the app and his company’s broader work on blood pressure monitoring. 

But more than just providing funding, he says the ASBIRI funding has provided mentorship and guidance for the fledgling start-up. Something that was invaluable for a team that had mostly academic experience. 

“All of it was made possible by Alberta Innovates…none of this would have been possible without [them],” he said.

Helping with the COVID crisis

mmHg Inc. started with a focus on hypertension — it’s even in the name, millimeters mercury, which is the unit for measuring blood pressure. But with the recent outbreak of coronavirus and the worry of the infection spreading in doctor’s offices, the company is also focused on COVID-19.

They’re providing a free platform for physicians and caregivers to keep an eye on patients suspected of having COVID-19, allowing them to track things like respiration rate, oxygen saturation and fever. 

“We want to be able to support Canadians at their greatest time of need,” said Peter Wood, mmHg Inc.’s COO.

For more information, contact Peter Wood (Peter.Wood@mmHg.ca).