In an innovative study, barbershops doubling as hypertension screening centers helped black men get their blood pressure (BP) under control. Recognizing black-owned barbershops as community gathering places, researchers tested whether they'd be good sites for conducting hypertension screening, referral, and follow-up for men at risk. An estimated 40% of black men have hypertension; in most cases, it's poorly controlled.
In the first of two studies, 27 regular barbershop customers with poorly controlled hypertension received standard treatment (written results of three BP screenings, recommendations for follow-up care, and American Heart Association brochures). Another 36 customers were part of an enhanced intervention group. Along with a significant discount on haircuts, these men received continual feedback through BP "report cards," information about how other community members have controlled their BP, and referrals to nearby health care.
After 8 months, the percentage of men in the intervention group who were getting treatment for hypertension increased from 47% to 92%, and the percentage of those whose BP was under control increased from 19% to 58%. No improvements were noted in the control group.
For the second study, which lasted 14 months, six barbers learned how to provide the same enhanced interventions, including BP checks. During the period, they reported giving 11,066 haircuts and performing 8,953 BP checks. Among 107 regular customers with hypertension, treatment and control increased progressively with increasing exposure to the interventions.
The data suggest that barbers can effectively perform BP monitoring, offer health education, and make referrals. Researchers note that although black churches have played a similar role in community health efforts, black men are less likely than black women to attend regularly. Barbershops are a logical alternative for reaching this high-risk group.