A study in Los Angeles has demonstrated that barbershops are a good place to talk to African-American men about blood pressure.
Check your blood pressure while you get your hair cut.
That novel approach to cutting high blood pressure is being tested among African-American men using their local barbershops.
It’s being touted as a success in Los Angeles.
Now, the program is headed to a new city.
Next stop? Nashville, Tennessee.
“We aim to show that our impressive blood pressure results can be replicated by another pharmacist-led team in a city or state very different from our own,” said Ciantel Adair Blyler, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist at Cedars Sinai Smidt Heart Institute and co-author of a study on the program.
The Smidt Heart Institute launched the original study in 2016.
It involved 319 African-American men at 52 barbershops in Los Angeles County.
The men all had a systolic blood pressure, the top number in a blood pressure reading of 140 or higher. That’s considered hypertension.
The men were randomly assigned to either a program led by specially trained pharmacists or to a control group.
The pharmacists met with the men at the barbershops, monitored their blood pressure, and worked with the men’s doctors to find the right medication for them.
In the control group, the barbers urged the men to make changes in their lifestyle and to see their doctors.
The data released last month shows that a year after the study began, the men in the pharmacist-led group were far more likely to experience a drop in blood pressure to a healthy level and stay there.
The average systolic blood pressure for those men decreased by nearly 29 points.
In the control group, the average drop was slightly more than 7 points.
Blyler believes those results prove the intervention succeeded, is sustainable, and is needed.
“Bringing medicine into the community works and approaches like this are necessary to close the gaps in healthcare disparities,” she told Healthline.
Corey Thomas, a barber at the “A New You” barbershop in Inglewood, California, is a “two-fer.”
He helped recruit his customers for the study and he also participated.
Thomas had already experienced a stroke. It happened while he was at work in the barbershop. At the time, he had no idea he had high blood pressure.
“I know I wasn’t feeling too good. I started sweating and my customer asked me if I was OK,” Thomas told Healthline.
What happened next was frightening.
He says he passed out and “They found me over by the shampoo bowl.”
Two paramedics happened to be in the shop getting haircuts and came to his assistance.
Thomas’ story of uncontrolled high blood pressure is not uncommon in the African-American community.
According to the American Heart Association, more than 40 percent of African-Americans in the United States have high blood pressure, among the highest rates in the world.
Left untreated, hypertension can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure.
Thomas says he was like a lot of African-American men.
He didn’t feel comfortable in a doctor’s office so he often used the emergency room for his healthcare.
Even after his stroke, he was reluctant to take the medication he had been prescribed because of the side effects.
“The first one they gave me, oh my God. I used the restroom all the time,” he said. “I’m 50-years old. I didn’t want to run to the bathroom all the time.”
But when he participated in the study, the pharmacist he worked with helped him find a medication that was a better fit.
His blood pressure now?
“Mine is down around 120/90. That’s really good” Thomas said.
Thomas says what made the difference for him was getting to know and trust the pharmacists on a turf where he and his customers already felt comfortable.
The barbershop was their neighborhood haven. The pharmacists eventually won them over.
“It’s crazy because they became like friends. It was so comfortable we could talk to them and tell them anything,” Thomas said. “It kind of reminds you like back in the day when the doctor would come to your home, that personal feel.”
That’s the atmosphere the researchers are hoping to duplicate as they launch the next study group.
And they’re getting some help from folks in Los Angeles.
Blyler calls Eric Muhammad, the owner of “A New You” barbershop in Inglewood, a “Barber Champion” of the study.
He was one of the first to embrace the pilot study.
Now he will help the researchers scout shops and recruit barbers in the Nashville area.
Beyond Nashville, Blyler says: “Our hope is that we can adapt the model to allow for nationwide scale-up so that this service is available to all who need it.”