Black barbers in Nashville are slipping in a new question during their haircuts: Want to check your blood pressure while you’re here?
The screening is modeled after projects in California and Texas that have had success treating hypertension where patients are most comfortable and already go regularly.
Master’s Barbershop on Clarksville Highway is one of the first participants. Owner Jamal Stewart says he decided to lead by example and have his own blood pressure checked. His barbershop now has an automated blood pressure cuff in the corner.
“It turned out to be a real-life situation for me,” he says.
As a trim 42 year-old, Stewart hadn’t even considered he might have a problem. But hypertension disproportionately affects African-Americans, and men are less likely to go to the doctor. Since getting tested, Stewart has already gotten a prescription for medication and is cutting back on fried and salty foods.
“Because of my own experience, I encourage people,” Stewart says. “Let’s get control of it before it’s too late.”
Hypertension can lead to a stroke, but it’s known as “the silent killer” because there aren’t many symptoms. In fact, blood pressure medication often makes patients feel worse, not better.
Pharmacist Jarod Parrish of Vanderbilt Medical Center says he needs someone to vouch for the value of testing.
“That trust that the barber has with the client is so, so important,” he says. “I feel like trust is what’s missing sometimes.”
A total of eight barbershops in Nashville now have these staffed kiosks. Customers with uncontrolled hypertension are being asked to enroll in a study, which is in collaboration with Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles.
Patients can get their follow-up care right in the same barbershop every two weeks. With a similar program in Los Angeles, more than half of participants lowered their blood pressure to normal ranges in six months.