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No copays, easier pills may reduce blood pressure

New research suggests giving patients easier-to-take medicine and no-co-pay medical visits can help drive down high blood pressure, a major contributor to poor health and untimely deaths nationwide.

Those efforts were part of a big health care provider’s eight-year program, involving more than 300,000 patients with high blood pressure. At the beginning, less than half had brought their blood pressure under control. That increased to a remarkable 80 percent, well above the national average, the researchers said.

The research involved Kaiser Permanente in northern California, a network of 21 hospitals and 73 doctors’ offices, which makes coordinating treatment easier than in independent physicians’ offices.

The number of heart attacks and strokes among northern California members fell substantially during roughly the same time as the 2001-09 study. Dr. Marc Jaffe, the lead author and leader of a Kaiser heart disease risk reduction program, said it’s impossible to know whether the blood pressure program can be credited for those declines, but he thinks it at least contributed.

Reductions continued even after the study ended; in 2011, 87 percent of roughly 350,000 Kaiser patients had recommended blood pressure levels.

The study was published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“What’s unique about this is the sheer scale of what they’ve done,” said Dr. Goutham Rao in Chicago. “If we were able to keep everyone’s blood pressure under control . . . the number of new strokes and heart attacks would go down just exponentially.”

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