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December 03, 2019

Men, give yourself the gift of health this holiday season

Start the new year with a trip to the doctor

Men are notorious for their aversion to a doctor’s appointment. According to Dr. Eric Klein, the Cleveland Clinic surveyed more than 500 men ages 18-70 across the United States and found that only three in five get an annual physical, and 40% don’t go to the doctor even when they fear they have a serious medical condition.

Physicians from Orlando Health in Florida commissioned a nationwide survey of men and found that more than 80% of men could name the make and model of their first car, but just half could remember the last time they had been to the doctor.

The American Heart Association has actually come up with a list of the top reasons men put off seeing a doctor. No surprises here: “I don’t have the time, I don’t have a doctor, doctors don’t DO anything.” A bunch of lame excuses built on a Neanderthal vision of what it means to be a man and no concept of the implications for themselves or the people that depend on them.

All this despite the fact that many of the major health risks that men face – like colon cancer or heart disease – can be prevented and treated with early diagnosis.

Why is it so difficult? Men just don’t seem to connect the dots between healthy practices, longevity and quality of life. So, this year, why not give yourself and those that love you the gift of health and start with a simple trip to a primary care doctor. Here’s a 5-step primer that can orient neophytes to the process of navigating the world of health care. I promise, it won’t hurt. By the way, don’t hesitate to engage the help of your wife, girlfriend or significant other. They’ll actually appreciate being enlisted to help in your care.

1. FIND THE RIGHT PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN

Let’s start with the basics. Do you have a primary care doctor? That would be someone who practices Internal Medicine or Family Medicine. They are like the quarterback of your health, treating your basic needs, monitoring your condition and coordinating care with specialists.

If yes, do you like them? It’s important to feel comfortable with your doc. You want to be at ease talking to them about very personal subjects you may not even share with your spouse. If you’re not totally satisfied, then seek out someone else. Friends and other health professionals are a good source of reference along with a host of online resources.

One final thing to consider is the doctor’s employer or practice structure. Today, more and more physicians are directly employed by health systems as opposed to the small practices of yesteryear. One benefit of a doc who is part of a larger system is their ability to connect you with specialists and have a more robust electronic medical record system so that no matter who you see in their system, your medical records are easily accessible. There are also primary care physicians who operate what are termed “concierge” practices where, for an extra fee, they will give you greater access and even their cell number. Bottom line, spending some time finding the right doc is worth the investment. It’s your life.

2. PREPERATION

If it’s been a while since your last visit, take a couple of minutes to prepare before your appointment. A quick inventory of any medications you take, along with vitamins or supplements will come in handy. You’ll get asked.

In addition, consider any aches and pains, concerns or other topics you want to discuss. Are you feeling sore or especially tired after certain activities? How’s your sex life? Don’t hesitate to literally write them down. There’s no shame in making a list so that nothing gets missed. The doc will appreciate it.

Finally, be prepared to tell the doc, whether they ask or not, what specific aspirations you have for yourself. Do you want to keep working for another 5 years? Are you interested in stepping up your exercise regimen? Do you want to dance at your daughter’s wedding next year? In medicine, this interest in a patient’s life is called motivational interviewing. They can better treat you if they understand where you are in life and what lies ahead. Again, don’t hesitate to offer this insight.

3. NAVIGATION

Health care is very much a team sport. Even routine care is likely to involve a number of providers beyond your primary care physician and her immediate staff. Technicians and other professionals will draw your blood, take your urine samples and administer X-rays. Sometimes your primary care physician will help in scheduling these tests or even perform them in their offices. Either way, be aware that the doc needs you to get these tests so that she can have a complete picture of your condition. Many of the larger health care systems maintain patient portals where you can access your test results and other information about your care online.

4. FOLLOW UP

While its incomprehensible to me that men would avoid seeking the care they need, what really sends my head spinning is the notion that someone would visit a doctor, get a prescription for medication or follow-up tests and then completely drop the ball. Yes, it happens. According to Dr. Charles P. Vega, a recent prospective cohort study involving more than 15,000 patients documented a 31% rate of nonadherence for new medications.

So, if you’re going to commit the time and effort to take care of yourself, commit to the full extent of the process. Ignoring the follow-up totally negates the process and leaves you no better off.

5. TAKE A BOW

By making the commitment to your health you’re making a statement about the people in your life. It’s a statement that demonstrates in a real and tangible way that you care enough about them to care about yourself. It’s the best gift you can give them and yourself this year. Happy holidays.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50."

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