The novel approach found a nearly 64% reduction in high blood pressure levels after barbers promoted follow-up with pharmacists in the barbershops.
African-American men lowered their high blood pressure to healthy levels when aided by a pharmacist and their local barber, according to a new study in The New England Journal of Medicine.
"When we provide convenient and rigorous medical care to African-American men by coming to them—in this case having pharmacists deliver that care in barbershops—blood pressure can be controlled and lives can be saved," said study lead author Ronald G. Victor, MD, associate director of the Smidt Heart Institute.
"High blood pressure disproportionately affects the African-American community, and we must find new ways to reach out so we can prevent strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and early deaths," Victor said.
The study included 319 African-American men recruited from 52 barbershops in the Los Angeles area. Participants had a systolic blood pressure reading of more than 140 mmHg, placing them at high risk of heart attack and stroke. The men received intervention aimed at lowering blood pressure below 130/80 mm Hg.
The men were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group's barbers encouraged patrons to meet with specially trained pharmacists who met the men monthly in the barbershop—where they prescribed blood pressure medication, monitored blood tests and then sent progress notes to each patron's primary care provider.
In the second group, barbers encouraged their patrons to follow up with a primary care provider for treatment and make lifestyle changes, such as increasing exercise and decreasing salt consumption.
For the patrons working with their barbers and pharmacist, systolic blood pressure dropped from 153 mmHg at the start of the study to 126 mmHg after six months, along with a decrease in diastolic blood pressure of 18 mmHg.
After six months, almost two-thirds of participants in the group working with pharmacists brought their blood pressure into the healthy range, the study found.
Men who met only with their barber saw their systolic blood pressure drop from 155 mmHg at the start of the study to 145 mmHg after six months. Diastolic blood pressured dropped by 4 mmHg in this group. At the six-month mark, 11.7% of the group brought their blood pressure into the healthy range, the study found.
"It's the silent killer, and it has cost the lives and health of a lot of good men," said study co-author Eric Muhammad, whose Inglewood shop, A New You Barbershop, participated in the study. "It's a no-brainer that black men are at the highest risk of high blood pressure. What's different about this study is it looks at ways to effectively bring it down with the help of your friends, family and support group."
Muhammad recruited his own customers for the study and helped recruit 50 other barbershops to participate. He said the program can make a significant difference in the health of African-American men.
"A big takeaway from this study is to release the fears," Muhammad said. "We cannot fear what the doctor will tell us. Dr. Victor has a very sincere desire to bring down blood pressure in people in general, and in black men in particular. Since I could see his heart in this, it was easy for me to offer assistance."
C. Adair Blyler, a pharmacist who treated patrons while they were in the barbershops, said the location was key.
"There is a different level of trust and respect that's earned when you meet people where they are, instead of in a hospital or clinic," Blyler said. "The rapport I've been able to establish with this group of patients has been unlike any other I've had in my professional career."
Researchers have started a second phase of the study to determine if the benefits can be sustained for another six months. Victor wants to expand the program to other parts of the country.
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.