June 11, 2018By: Mark Sampson, M.S., Technical Writer-Editor, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)Summary: An  NHLBI-funded study that paired barbershops with pharmacists helped  lower blood pressure in a group of black men, who are at high risk for  hypertension.

Marc  Sims was surprised when he walked into his neighborhood barbershop one  Saturday morning two years ago and spotted several strangers carrying  medical gear. The 43-year-old law-firm operations clerk, a regular at  the Inglewood, California, barbershop, learned the strangers were  engaged in a research study.

Sims overheard something about measuring blood pressure and about “a  health crisis” in the black community. He waited for his weekly turn in  the barber’s chair and watched the technicians strap blood pressure  cuffs around the arms of several patrons and pumped the cuffs full of  air. He listened as they talked to the men about their measurements and  what they meant. “Not for me. I feel fine,” he thought, even though he  hadn’t seen a doctor in years.

The healthcare workers asked Sims if he’d like his blood pressure  checked. After nudging from barbershop owner Eric Muhammad, Sims  surprised himself and relented. His reading: 175/125 millimeters of  mercury (mm Hg), seriously high numbers that signaled he was at a  dangerous risk for a heart attack and stroke. A normal reading is less  than 120/80 mm Hg.

“I couldn’t believe how high my blood pressure was,” says Sims, who  began to reevaluate his health. “I have an 8-year-old son and I want to  be there for him. That’s what motivated me to join the program.”


The program was the centerpiece of an NHLBI-funded study led by  researchers at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  It involved placing pharmacists at African-American-owned barbershops  so they could monitor the customers with high blood pressure and  prescribe medications. The barbers also were trained to measure blood  pressure.

When the program started, researchers hoped that the unusual  intervention would lead to significant reductions in blood pressure  among black men, who have the highest levels of high blood pressure of  any racial, ethnic, or sex group in the United States. This group is  also among the hardest to reach. That is why the barbershops, which  often serve as trusted social hubs for black men, were chosen as sites  for the study.

The results were impressive, researchers say. News of the potentially  lifesaving intervention comes at an appropriate time: June is Men’s  Health Month. The success of the program could have far-reaching  implications for larger efforts to improve health among black men: high  blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for developing  heart attacks, chronic kidney disease, stroke and other health problems.

Researchers enrolled 319 African-American men, ages 35 to 79, who had  high blood pressure and who were regulars at one of 52 black-owned  barbershops in the Los Angeles area. They randomly assigned the men to  one of two groups: an intervention group that was encouraged by their  barbers to meet with pharmacists who made “house calls” to the  barbershops and prescribed blood pressure medications, or a control  group that simply got encouragement from their barbers to make lifestyle  changes and doctor appointments. The pharmacists worked in  collaboration with the intervention group participants’ doctors.

After six months, 63 percent of the men who worked with the  pharmacists achieved a healthy blood pressure level, while only 12  percent of the men in the control group did so. The intervention group  achieved an average blood-pressure level of less than 130/80 millimeters  of mercury (mm Hg). In the control group, the average blood pressure  fell to 145 mm Hg.

Researchers say the study was the first to show clear-cut evidence  that a medical intervention by a pharmacist in collaboration with a  barber can make a key difference in the health of the barber’s regular  patrons. The researchers published their results in the New England Journal of Medicine

“I’ve watched the blood pressure of my clients go down, and that’s a big win,” Muhammad said.

Sims now has his blood pressure under control thanks to medications  and healthy lifestyle changes, including an improved diet and more  exercise. “My advice to people,” said Sims, “get tested for high blood  pressure regularly. It can save your life.”

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