April 08, 2022
This is a call to action. With overwhelming evidence that men are averse to making a doctor's appointment, it's time for anyone who loves or cares about their husband, partner, dad, uncle, step-father or even casual buddy to step up.
As a member of the man's loving constituency, you have a chance to achieve the unthinkable, getting your guy to schedule an appointment, or more likely, giving you permission to schedule one on his behalf.
Having written extensively about grossly outdated views on masculinity, and chronicled study after study that document the reluctance of men to seek medical care, it's time to equip those positioned to influence a man's behavior with the expert strategies and messages that can make a huge difference in his life, and maybe even save his life.
The Cleveland Clinic's MENtion It survey is a great source that measures the pulse of men's health behaviors. Its annual campaign confronts the hesitancy of men to talk about certain health issues like erectile dysfunction or, more broadly, seeking health care.
Their latest survey, published in September, still shows significant numbers of men visiting their physicians less than once a year or never, particularly among men of color, but telemedicine seems to have created a slightly more comfortable means to bridge this gap. Sixty-six percent of the men surveyed reported using digital health services in the past 12 months.
Surveys as recent as 2019 have indicated that men would prefer household chores, like cleaning the bathroom or mowing the lawn, to a doctor's visit, and many of those who did see their doctor were not completely honest.
The less personal communication offered by the digital experience seems to show promise in dealing with some very personal health matters, but only scratches the surface of a much larger challenge. With the 2021 survey showing that 30% of the men learned about their medical risks from friends and family, the data supports a push from those closest.
Before we jump into the strategies and messaging, it's important to offer some expert perspectives on male mindset.
According to the Journal of Family Practice, female partners are a man's greatest source of support for health concerns, typically offered indirectly. Other influences on the decision to seek help include feelings of vulnerability, fear and denial. The Journal reports that men are more apt to look for help for specific problems rather than for more general health concerns.
Finally, there are personal and systematic barriers that come into play. Personal hurdles include a sense of immunity and immortality, and a belief that seeking help is unacceptable. Among systematic barriers are time and access, having to state the reason for a visit, and the lack of a male doctors. Now that you know what you are up against, here's your playbook.
The experts offer a range of strategies that can be tailored to the personality and circumstances of the men in your life. UCLA Health suggests that a recap of the facts is a great place to start: men can have more complications from high blood pressure than women, more than 70% of sudden heart attacks happen to men, cancer is the second-leading cause of death for men, and men develop diabetes slightly more than women.
If the facts are not persuasive, UCLA says try the financial angle. Hospital bills, time off work and major life disruptions can be costly. Last, but not least, you can take the social route. Consider making your own health care visit on the same day, and build in a lunch date around the healthy experience.
The clinicians at ThedaCare, an affiliate of The Mayo Clinic Care Network, concur with the those offered by UCLA, and also suggest that if bad news is his worry, remind him that preventive care acts like an early-warning system, improving success, and reducing long-term impacts. Arranging virtual visits is also a mainstay in their approach to men.
A different perspective comes from Nancy Burgoyne, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University who promotes compassion as an alternative to guilt. Being a role model by practicing good health measures is another strategy offered by Dr. Burgoyne.
Finally, Dr. Jason Knutson, a family medicine physician at Avera Medical Group suggests that if all else fails, remind your man how important he is to you, his children, and others in his social circle. Knutson points to studies by the American Academy of Family Physicians that "80% of men will go to the doctor if asked – or told – to do so by their spouse or significant other."
Other commonly referenced ideas include getting a non-family member to intercede. Typically, this would be an individual that your man holds in high regard or has some level of community standing. One tactic I like is connecting personal health with the ability to play sports or engage in activities like swimming that require some minimal level of physical activity.
And a strategy I learned from the healthy-behaving men I researched was timing. Many guys told me that the chances of getting your message across are dramatically increased when you can deliver it at just the right time. This may be at the top of a flight of stairs when a man is gasping for air, or when he just can't keep up with his grandchildren and has to take a seat. Seizing the moment in a respectful way is a great form of leverage.
No matter what approach you use, and regardless of your relationship with the man, the menu is diverse and open to modification. The key is to craft your message in a caring and compassionate form, but remain clear about the medical and social implications of neglecting his health.
It's not an easy task, and you may not be successful on your first try, but decades of poor health outcomes can be traced to the same outdated perception of masculinity and aversion to medical care. Start with just one guy and see if you can make a difference. It may just save his life.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer 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." Read more from Louis on his website.