Newswise — Black men with high blood pressure could benefit from a research study beginning this month to check their vitals while they are getting a haircut at a barbershop.

Previous research in Texas and California has shown barbershops can successfully support preventive medical care, leading Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers to begin a pilot research clinical trial for black men, who are traditionally less likely than white men to have regular preventive checkups with their doctor.

“Hypertension is called a ‘silent killer’ because most people have no clue they have it until they have their blood pressure taken. There are no symptoms until the day they have their stroke or heart attack or develop kidney disease,” said David Harrison, MD, director of VUMC’s division of Clinical Pharmacology and principal investigator for the study.

“One of the main challenges we face is that people have to take off work, come see a doctor, deal with traffic and try to find parking — all of which are disruptive to their life — so they stop taking their medicine and coming for appointments. Meeting people where they are makes it easier for them to get their blood pressure checked and discuss their medications.”

The Vanderbilt study is a collaboration with the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles, as well as UCLA, CVS Health, NashvilleHealth and My Brother’s Keeper in Nashville.

"Initiatives like this harness the power of community to transform health," said Sen. Bill Frist, MD, founder of NashvilleHealth. "The collaborative approach among Nashville’s academic, nonprofit, public health and business leaders will take innovative care directly to the patient in a trusted, accessible environment. These are the very unique health solutions that will change lives for the better." 

The new study is modeled after several pioneering studies led by the late hypertension specialist Ronald G. Victor, MD, who was the first to scientifically prove that hypertension health care provided in convenient neighborhood settings could have a positive impact on the black community, which has higher rates of hypertension, hypertension complications and death.

Victor's most recent study, published in 2018 in The New England Journal of Medicine, showed 60% of participants across a network of 60 barbershops brought their high blood pressure into normal ranges within six months.

In Nashville, patrons from eight local barbershops who have uncontrolled hypertension will be invited to enroll in the study, where they will meet with a study pharmacist in the barbershop on a regular basis for six months. A study physician will also be available for patrons who require additional support.

Because barbers are often seen as mentors and have longstanding relationships with their regular patrons, researchers hope their advocacy for the project will lead to earlier identification of hypertension.

“The relationship between the barber and client lends a level of credence to endeavors of health and wellness that cannot be found anywhere else,” said Jarod Parrish, PharmD, the study’s pharmacist. “This model will help tear down barriers of entry for the African American community, such as the distrust in the health care system due to historical injustices, and will show that, when trusted, the health care system can deliver life-altering results.”

According to Jamal Stewart, owner of Masters Barbershop, one of the project’s eight participating Nashville barbershops, the project is important for helping to fill a gap in health care that affects many of his clients.

“I chose to participate in this project because I can see a true need for hypertension awareness,” said Stewart. “A considerable amount of people in our community are unaware of their condition. I am looking forward to the healing process by giving people a chance to educate themselves and the tools to combat hypertension.”

This research is supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (grant UL1TR001881-03S2).

Cutline: Jarod Parrish, PharmD, the study’s pharmacist, checking blood pressure inside Masters Barbershop on Clarksville Pike.