Barbershops can be more than places to get a haircut done. Black barbershops, in particular, can be of tremendous benefit to African American communities across the country by serving as launch pads for community health outreaches. These businesses are dynamic social institutions that have historically served as hubs for people of all ages to share ideas and experiences.
Barbershop owners find themselves in an industry that allows them to cater to the needs of many different generations; from giving a kid a trim to making dreadlocks for a bachelor and shaving a gray-haired scalp. In the same way that they impact people's hair, they can improve their health and wellbeing.
An article by Brent Staples, an editor at the New York Times, reports that newspapers celebrating unsung black heroes were for many years "religiously passed from home to home and read aloud in barbershops." Today, barbershop owners are using their businesses to raise awareness about chronic diseases affecting their customers, including hypertension, prostate cancer, and diabetes, which disproportionately affect Black men. Today, over 40% of Black men die prematurely from cardiovascular disease as compared to 21% of white men.
In an interview on the Today Show in 2018, the late Ronald G. Victor, MD. explained that “Black men have the highest rates of high-blood-pressure-related disability and death of any group in the US.” However, despite the higher risks of developing these chronic health conditions, Black men are underserved by the medical industry and face barriers to accessing healthcare, such as lower income levels and a lack of medical insurance.
According to research led by Joseph Ravenell, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, "the barbershop can have a broad reach for Black men and materially change the outcomes of chronic conditions." "We were able to demonstrate not only that partnering with barbers from the barbershops to address Black men's health was feasible, but also that it could result in a significant reduction of blood pressure," he said.
The Covid-19 pandemic this year has brought to attention the need for everyone to achieve and maintain an optimal state of health to fight off infection and disease. Data from the CDC shows that patients with pre-existing health conditions, e.g., diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, are at a significantly higher risk of developing Covid-19 complications that may require them to be placed on a ventilator.
Since Black men in the US are at some of the highest risks of developing chronic diseases, their healthcare needs must be addressed as a matter of urgency. While barbershops across the country were closed for several months this year, some owners remained in touch with their customers, sending health tips and making referrals to qualified and competent Black doctors for treatment via social media platforms. Today, the Black Barbershop, a medical outreach service, is taking healthcare awareness to underserved populations.
The Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program (BBHOP) is a medical outreach service created by Dr. Bill Releford to tackle the health inequities facing Black men in America. Currently, it has screened over 30,000 black men over the country for prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.
BBHOP also focuses on the early detection and prevention of diabetes and hypertension by promoting dietary changes and exercise. On its website, it offers a secure telehealth platform that connects people in underserved communities to the best healthcare professionals. It also provides a video-based app for wound measurement and remotely monitoring patients’ vitals in real-time. BBHOP’s mobile and tablet-based app leverages AI functionality and enterprise cloud services to provide access to quality healthcare for all.