A very long time ago, barbers performed surgical procedures. Now, once again, barbers may have a role to play in the health care of their community.

In the BARBER-1 trial, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Ronald Victor and colleagues compared two hypertension monitoring and referral programs based in 17 black-owned barbershops in Texas. Following a 10-week period of baseline blood pressure screening, 8 shops provided standard blood pressure pamphlets to their customers and 9 shops provided blood pressure checks and promoted physician follow-up  to their customers. After 10 months, the improvement in hypertension control was significantly higher in the group of customers with actively involved barbers, with an absolute difference between the groups of 8.8%.

In an accompanying commentary, Clyde Yancy considers the trial from a personal perspective “as a black man with [hypertension] who has frequented the same community barber for 17 years.” He notes that hypertension “is both an onerous risk and a scourge for the African American community” and that the BARBER-1 study suggests “a transformative approach that might actually work.” But, he asks, “why must we resort to a community-driven approach that abdicates the responsibility to detect disease and institute preemptive care to well-intentioned, appropriately trained, but nonetheless clinically naive health care providers?” He wonders “why it is they, the barbers, and not we, the physicians, who are providing the care.”

This post is republished with permission from CardioExchange, a new website for cardiovascular healthcare professionals from the New England Journal of Medicine. CardioBrief readers who are healthcare professionals are invited to join the site.

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Larry Husten was the editor of TheHeart.Org from its inception in 1999 until December 2008. Before that he was a freelance medical journalist who wrote for The Lancet, The New York Times, Discover, and a large number of other medical and computer publications. In 1994-1995 he was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. He received a PHD in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo and drove a taxicab in New York City before embarking on a career in medical journalism.

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