Five Ways That Checking Your Blood Pressure Can Raise Your Blood Pressure

Source: Penn Medicine

What makes blood pressure monitors so difficult? Here are five common, easy-to-solve issues that need to be fixed:

1. Preconceptions

Even within a few minutes actual pressures can vary. But despite lengthy instruction manuals, manufacturers of blood pressure monitors offer little or no information to explain this. And while some models will automatically take three readings and calculate an average, inconsistent numbers still cause suspicions of inaccuracy. Some expect that the readings their doctor took last week should match their numbers today. The resulting interpretation: “this thing is inaccurate.”

2. Mispositioning the cuff

While the wrist is an option, most units employ upper-arm cuffs. Their instructions call for above-the-elbow placement — but they don’t warn against forearm placement. This wouldn’t seem to be an issue, except some people ignore or misinterpret the cuff-placement diagrams. Others cannot, or would rather not, roll up their sleeves several inches beyond the elbow. Instead they assume forearm placement to be just as good, since it’s only a few inches away.

3. Using the wrong arm

Upper-arm cuffs are designed for your left arm, positioned with the air tube centered and running toward your palm. The cuff’s sensor, however, sits to the side — it reads an artery that, with palm up, is located toward the torso. While either arm could be used, following the left arm instructions but positioning the cuff on your right arm misses the artery. 

4. Leveling the cuff with your heart — wherever that is

The cuff should be at the same height as your heart, as stipulated by all manufacturers. Even if just few inches off a raised arm will result in lower pressure readings, a lowered arm will increase the numbers. Not everyone positions their arm properly, or consistently. And not everyone knows where their heart is. In fact, some manufacturers’ instruction diagrams misrepresent the heart’s location.

5. Bad UX

Based on many observations of people using blood pressure monitors I can report that User Experience (UX design) can range from poor to pitiful. Common UX problems include unreadable sizes of text and symbols on display screens (especially a problem on the low contrast, dark-gray-on-green-background typical of some LCD screens used.) Locations of physical buttons often don’t correspond to the on-screen position of their status indicators, so visual feedback can be missed.

The depth of the problem

Design-wise, solving these usability problems would appear to be relatively simple. But design problems can originate at a deeper level. For many units there appears to have been little communication between the manufacturers’ internal teams, a factor often at the root of usability issues. Solving design problems often require addressing more than the design itself. It requires proper design management and, for all involved in product development, respect for the wide range of people who will be using that product.

The effects of hypertension can be devastating, blood pressure should not be left unmonitored. Added to that is the silliness of having up to 20% of products sold being returned and crushed. Even small improvements in design and usability, nudging just a few more people to check more often and take more accurate readings, can make a significant difference. An example of how good design and bad design can both change our lives.

This article is important because it exemplifies the ways poor design can be detrimental to people’s health. Even though heart-related diseases are the leading cause of death in the US, there is still little progress made in the redesign of an effective blood pressure monitor. 

Although technology is the main component of new measurement devices, design is extremely valuable. From the instructions to the screen displaying the data, these factors when poorly designed, can discourage people from monitoring their blood pressure. Designers are responsible for making a product ergonomically smart and easy to use. Purchasing an at-home monitor is a step into the right direction when it comes to monitoring blood pressure. However, if when you try to do so it comes with complicated directions and inaccurate readings people will feel frustrated. As a result they may return the product like the article mentioned or rarely use it.