MINNEAPOLIS - Patients who monitor their blood pressure at home and discuss the results with pharmacists can make significant progress against hypertension, according to a Minnesota study that could chart a new course in treating the nation's most common and costly chronic ailment.

Among people using the new technique, 57 percent brought their blood pressure within a healthy range, compared with 30 percent in a control group, according to a study conducted by Bloomington-based HealthPartners and published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Patients using the new technique also kept their blood pressure under control for six months after the experiment ended.

"The telemonitors allowed patients to work with their pharmacist over the phone instead of coming to the (doctor's) office," said Dr. Karen Margolis, a senior investigator at the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research. As a result, she said, "they were able to get a lot more done" in treating their condition.

Margolis said some patients also came away with a better understanding of hypertension, felt they could communicate more effectively with their health-care team felt more confident monitoring their condition.

High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and can lead to other ailments such as heart disease and stroke. The condition affects nearly 1 in 3 adult Americans.

The study used 450 patients who receive care from Health Partners Medical Group clinics - some with other underlying conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease. One group was sent home with telemonitors that allowed them to take their own blood pressure six times a week and transmit the results to pharmacists. The pharmacists could then make adjustments in the patients' medication levels and answer patients' questions. Patients in the second group received their usual hypertension care, with no home-based follow-up.

The study does not specifically indicate what produced the results, but Margolis said, "it was the whole package," that appealed to patients.

A follow-up study will be conducted before HealthPartners decides whether to adopt the technique more widely.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA said the study shows hope for modernizing medicine much as ATMs changed banking a generation ago.

"It is clear that bringing hypertension care out of the office and into patients' homes works," it said.