How's This For A Distinctive Patient Experience?

Retail models. Consumer-directed care. User-generated tools. There's a reason I keep cycling these issues around like a scratched CD.

Sometimes to improve people's health we must stop. thinking. of. healthcare.


Who they are. Where they live. What services they buy.

Click here to read about how neighborhood barbershops in DC are reducing the impact of heart disease in the District.

Author Delphine Schrank of The Washington Post has single-handedly revived my faith in traditional journalism with chestnuts like this opening line:

"In the annals of beauty, the pompadour, the beehive and the Afro all had their day. Now comes the lifesaving haircut."

Schrank's great article begs the question of what's more important in innovative approaches to healthcare - the methodologies or finding means to employ intervention techniques that meet people where they are?

My only question after reading the article is this: Why did it take two decades for the Hair Heart and Health Program to spread virally to the District, just about 1.5 hours away from the program's birthplace in Baltimore?

Here's a summary from DCPA:

In southeast, one barber dispatched two freshly trimmed customers with hypertension straight to the emergency room. At the Divine Transformation Beauty Salon, a beautician cajoled a 300+ lb. patron into trying a fiber-rich diet. And in northeast, the owner of Fresh Cut II All About You opened her hair salon on a Sunday night to check the blood pressure of a client who had nearly fainted after learning that her daughter died in a car crash.

These three are among African American barbers and beauticians in five DC shops with blood pressure machines and digital scales tucked between hair-drying bonnets and bottles of shampoo.

They were enlisted in a program underwritten by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and the MedStar Research Institute to combat coronary heart disease. Modeled after a Baltimore program coordinated by U.Md.'s Department of Medicine, the DC program trains stylists how to screen clients for obesity and high blood pressure and when to urge them to follow up with a doctor. The plan is to be implemented in 12 shops by year's end.

Launched last month, the Hair Heart and Health program joins a groundswell of similar efforts across the country. All expand on the unique cultural role that barbershops and hair salons play in the African American community to raise awareness about health issues -- particularly those that disproportionately affect black Americans.

Barbershops and beauty salons are one place where African Americans meet across socioeconomic lines. They
're the nerve centers where gossip is traded and racial politics is dissected. The idea to marry health care and hair styling arose in Towson, Md., in the early 1980s, when U.Md. doctors began checking blood pressure in churches, but sought to capture a wider audience.

Also read: "Barbershops, Bibles and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought" by Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor at Princeton University. For more info, read: Hair Salons, Barber Shops Become Centers of New Cardiac Care Effort in District of Columbia; Hair, Heart & Health Addresses Coronary Health Risks for African-Americans, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, News Release, October 1, 2007.

Amazing. If DC can encourage barbershops in cash-strapped neighborhoods to take part in community-based, consumer-centric healthcare, what can you and your organization do to address each customer where they are?

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