The Black barbershop isn’t just the place where generations of boys and men go to get their routine haircuts and shaves. The barbershop is where generations of Black boys and men fellowship, seek counsel, get mentored and come out feeling brand new like crisp money into a world that doesn’t always recognize their worth. Thanks to the vision of one Los Angeles doctor on a mission, the barbershop will soon be a place Black men can also get their lives saved.
Ronald G. Victor, MD, director of the Hypertension Center in the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, was recently awarded an $8.5 million grant for a revolutionary health initiative that will train African-American barbers from 20 LA shops to screen for hypertension.
Commonly referred to as high blood pressure, hypertension can lead to stroke, chronic kidney disease, heart failure and a host of other complications when left undiagnosed or mismanaged.
“Uncontrolled hypertension is one of the biggest health problems facing the African-American community today,” said Victor, the Burns and Allen Chair in Cardiology Research. “Hypertension is called the silent killer because there are no symptoms. We need to find a way to reach out to the community and prevent the serious complications caused by high blood pressure because all too often, by the time a patient finds out they have the condition, the heart and kidneys already have been damaged.”
Among African-Americans, 43 percent of men and 45.7 percent of women have high blood pressure, compared to 33.9 percent of white men and 31.3 percent of white women.
Victor is a pioneer in barbershop-based health outreach and the scientific controlled testing of it. Findings from his 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that if barbers offered blood pressure checks during men’s haircuts and encouraged those with hypertension to follow up with physicians, hundreds of lives could be saved annually.
With the grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and partnerships with several California medical centers, Victor is set to begin a new clinical trial with 500 African-American barbershop patrons that have uncontrolled hypertension. The goal of the new trial is to test the effectiveness of barbershop hypertension programs and whether expanding such programs is feasible and cost-effective.
“In the Middle Ages barbers were called barber surgeons,” says Victor. “The idea is to enlist the aid of the barbers to reclaim their historical role as a part of the health care team, with a modern twist.”
Victor and team hope that the new trials outcomes will show an even greater benefit while also lowering the cost of providing high-quality healthcare for hypertension in high-risk populations.
Visit the BlackDoctor.org High Blood Pressure center for more articles.