Health Watch -- Life-Saving Barbers?

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When patients don't go to doctors, doctors have to find new ways of reaching patients.

A unique new program is getting some familiar faces involved in improving the health of the community. Undiagnosed and untreated high blood pressure is a major problem in the African American community. As part of an ongoing study on high blood pressure, doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas found that African American men have the highest rate of uncontrolled high blood pressure.

But how can doctors find and treat these patients? The UT Southwestern researchers came up with a plan. They decided to involve local barbershops in the effort, training the barbers to take their customers' blood pressure using automated devices. Dr. Ron Victor, the UT Southwestern cardiologist who heads the project, says the barbershop partnership makes sense. Customers tend to be very loyal to their barbers, developing relationships that last for years. And they visit their barbers frequently to get their hair cut. Barbers certainly see men more often than doctors do.

The goal is to make men more aware of high blood pressure and its dangers. If checking blood pressure becomes a regular part of a visit to the barber, men are more likely to realize when they need to see a doctor for treatment.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney failure.