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Barbershops and Blood Pressure: Community Health Screening Idea You Can Use

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

blood pressure checkBarbershops for health screenings? An unlikely venue for hypertension testing? Surprisingly, medical practices and hospitals around the country have discovered an effective marketing gateway for reaching African-American men, a demographic group that is particularly at risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

It’s no secret that, in medical marketing, women are a prime demographic target. Women account for 80 percent of healthcare purchases, and that alone makes them THE prime audience…most of the time.

Men, on the other hand, are healthcare’s most reluctant patients, and collectively, they represent a greater marketing challenge. What’s more, African-American men are the least likely population to seek treatment for hypertension.

To break through these barriers, healthcare providers, facilities and organizations have been teaming-up with trusted neighborhood barbers and bringing blood pressure testing into the community. In the African-American culture, the local barbershop is often a social hub and a casual, comfortable environment.

The barber—often the shop owner—becomes a health champion and, along with a participating doctor, is an educational resource. Individuals who may be at risk for hypertension are directed to a doctor or medical facility.

“Since the 1980s, African-American-owned barbershops and hair salons have hosted screening programs for medical conditions that disproportionately affect African-Americans,” according to Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. Similar outreach programs have been conducted in cities in South Florida, Indiana, Texas and elsewhere throughout the United States.

In a Southern California pilot program, a customer’s blood pressure is checked three times during a haircut—if it’s elevated, the customer is sent to their doctor or referred to a physician. "You also get a free haircut if you bring your blood pressure medication with you on your next visit.”

Recently, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute provided a substantial grant to expand the program. Participating African-American barbers will be trained in conducting blood pressure checks, and in steering patients to medical care.

But, is this effort worthwhile? Yes, according to a study from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. “The study—the first to subject increasingly popular barbershop-based health programs to a scientific scrutiny with randomized, controlled testing—demonstrates the haircutters’ heart health efforts work well enough that they could save hundreds of lives annually. [JAMA, Archives of Internal Medicine, 02/28/11]

Also, research by the American Medical Association and others shows that the barbershop-based health interventions are effective in raising awareness and, more important, getting men to pursue check-ups and treatment with primary medical providers.

And, as a marketing concept for doctors, medical practices, and cardiology groups, this idea can become an effective outreach effort in local communities.

Mike Wapner, Healthcare Success

Mike Wapner, Project Manager — Throughout his career, Mike has specialized in direct-response writing, and has written well over 1,000 campaigns, both B2B and B2C. Among these are marketing materials for just about every medical, dental and allied health specialty. In addition to working with our corporate and doctor clients, Mike has written for PacifiCare, United Airlines, America West Airlines, Langer Juice, Memorex and many of America’s largest financial institutions.

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