Blood Pressure Screenings at Barbershops Promote Conversations About Health

Dr. Joseph Ravenell, an assistant professor of population health and medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, has begun performing blood pressure tests at barbershops in his New York community.

It all started at Ravenell’s own barbershop. He started going to Harlem Masters Barbershop, currently owned by barber Polo Greene, with his father when he was a child. Ravenell still tags along with his father, a local minister, but these days he brings a team of researchers along with him.

Dr. Ravenell set up a blood pressure screening station in the back of Greene’s shop so that people waiting for a haircut could get their blood pressure taken. Dr. Ravenell chose the shop because he believed it gave him better access to the black community.

“For a whole host of reasons, black men tend to underutilize private health-care services,” said Ravenell, going on to talk about poor access to health care and insurance alongside a general mistrust of health care providers. Black men and women in the U.S. are 13 percent more likely to suffer from heart disease and heart disease related conditions according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Ravenell’s program is intended to push those numbers back down.

According to Greene, the program has made an impact. Since Dr. Ravenell began testing five years ago, Greene has stated that conversations about health are more common and customers are more willing to open up about their health.

The funding that Dr. Ravenell and his fellow researchers received has dried up, and he has been forced to move on to other projects. However, to make sure that the community impact is maintained, Dr. Ravenell and his team trained up more than 200 lay-health educators to continue the free screenings.