June is Men’s Health Month: a time to acknowledge social or physical barriers that prevent men from seeking care that they need. In fact, men are half as likely to go to the doctor as women.¹
“Men put their health last,” said Demetrius Porche, DNS, RN, editor in chief of the American Journal of Men’s Health in an article for WebMD. “Most men’s thinking is, if they can live up to their roles in society, then they’re healthy.”²
And it’s not an encouraging perspective to have, especially when men are also more at risk for certain fatal diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression, subsequently followed by suicide.²
These high rates of disease, combined with low health system access rates translate to widening health disparities and younger deaths for men.
In 1900, women tended to outlive men only by a slight two years. Now, women outlive men by more than five years on average. Unfortunately, that number has remained constant for the past two generations. Currently, men are dying at higher and younger rates from 9 of the 10 leading causes of death in America.³
Men’s Health Month is also a call to action: a time to explore solutions for how we can collectively lessen these health disparities. In the following sections, find tips on how to positively shift men’s mindset around health and change their outlook.
Understanding Fundamentals: Why Men Don’t Seek Health Care
For men, the choice to not access health care can be due to any number of social, financial or physical reasons. However, there are three reasons with which health systems can work directly with the patient to lessen its influences.
The first would be stigma. Society’s expectations around “what a man should be” can have detrimental consequences on men’s participation in levels in society, and in the health arena. Stigma is a phenomenon that will likely interfere with the uptake of preventative health measures. It can begin at the mental health level, with an unwillingness to either acknowledge there is a problem, seek out care for it, or both. But as every health professional knows, mental health is also physical health.
Consequently, because men seek out points of care more sporadically, they are often less likely to have a primary care provider. With the rise of “minute-clinics,” men are often left without a dedicated professional with whom they have a history of built trust. As a result, they might feel as though they are unable to share “embarrassing” concerns with the health care professional they are seeing.³
The third reason as to why men don’t seek care can also be simply attributed to lack of awareness. Information gaps exist between not knowing how certain behaviors and lifestyle choices affect their health, or not knowing family medical history.⁴
But of course, an umbrella approach to preventative care is rarely effective. Varying patient populations have varying beliefs, and it’s important to tailor messaging to each. That’s why a variety of researchers and clinicians are recommending a gender-specific approach to care. Through understanding the barriers to care men face, clinicians can work with the grain of insecurities and ease them into a nurturing space.
Here’s How to Change The Way Men Think About Health
Put Mental Health First
Many physical care-taking needs cannot be fulfilled until mental health is fully realized. A startling and disheartening fact is that suicide is the 7th leading cause of death among men, while it is only the 14th among women. To put the disparity further into perspective, between the ages of 15 and 64, men commit suicide 3.5 times more than women. From ages 65 to 74, the ratio of men’s suicides to women’s averages 4:1. As they age, the issue only becomes more dire, with the ratio rising 9.3:1.³ Men whose mental health conditions go unacknowledged or untreated are evidently more at risk.
It’s never too late to make change happen in your community! Some steps health systems might take to rework mental health to be as customary a priority as physical health include:
- Developing emotional-first aid and community-based programs that rely on peer support to show men and boys that improving their health is a collective effort
- For example, see the case study of how this health system used school peers to help signal when another student might be feeling down (page 21).
- Screening for mental health conditions at the same time as physical conditions
- Research finds men often won’t sporadically express feeling down, without being prompted, unlike women.³
- Time constraint is often a big problem for providers wanting to provide this service. Consider outsourcing to health coaches to conduct a variety of preventive risk assessments.
- Explore more thoroughly how telehealth can help provide screening, continuous care and peer and community support to address behavioral health issues.
- Especially for men of minority communities, telehealth can be a great way to connect with someone who looks like them and might better understand their experiences. This then allows them to be more vulnerable and more effectively overcome their health challenges.
- Telehealth also affords privacy, particularly for trans men who might feel uneasy seeking out care in-person among fellow community members.
- In marginalized communities, it is also important to understand the link between behavioral health issues and interactions with the criminal justice system.³
- Culturally cognizant care is critical here, as even the way men of certain communities express their issues is often coated in cultural subcontext, and could be used in conjunction with dialects, such as African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Providers who do not belong to these communities can often misinterpret what the patient is trying to express, and therefore misread a critical care point. Health systems should form partnerships within the communities they serve to provide culturally-sensitive training or band with community members who can bridge the gap of understanding.
Following Through on Men’s Physical Health
Relationship Building is Key: Forming Foundations
Men often only seek care to resolve a specific issue, rather than seek it out continuously. In conjunction with gender-specific techniques, providers can focus on relationship-building to encourage men to engage with the health system more frequently.
“…Shifting the health care model of “care when needed” to a “continuity of care model” for men may help allay misconceptions about care that challenge masculinity, foster productive health care touchpoints, emphasize primary preventative health care, and imbue men with a sense of responsibility and value in their health, because it matters!” researchers of this article exploring solutions for promoting men’s health say.⁵
To begin the relationship-building process, providers can start by having an open conversation with male patients at the appointment. Studies have shown men more comfortably express their concerns when they are first allowed to share their stories, from their perspective.⁵ First impressions can be everything! It should be a non-judgmental space that’s not aimed to get them in-and-out, but rather understand where they’re coming from. Other methods to kick-start this relationship-building can include⁵:
- Active listening
- Motivational Interviewing
- Sitting side-by-side with the patient
- Shifting from vertical to horizontal communication (i.e. talking with the patient, rather than at them)
- Speaking with men as if you were a friend or a concerned neighbor, rather than an expert in the field, which can shut them off from the conversation
3 Additional Tips for Following Through on Physical Concerns For Men
- Researchers say men are drawn to technology⁵
-mHealth, online discussion forums, remote patient monitoring (RPM), telehealth and telemental health are all helpful tools that can leverage a man’s curiosity in using the latest technology and therefore spur interest in primary preventative care, this study states.
Telehealth and similar technologies are also helpful when striving to spur behavior change among men. The use of health coaches can help men pinpoint bad health habits and create positive, and hopefully permanent, lifestyle changes. Health coaches are a great way to ensure the patient accesses care continuity, without putting added stress on a clinician’s workload.
It’s worth noting that clinicians are also rampantly uptaking RPM devices to help monitor and treat hypertension and diabetes, two conditions men are most at risk for. In fact, a whopping 47 percent of men had hypertension between 2013-2016.⁶ The time for intervention is now!
- Men Are Keen on Health Care, You Just Can’t Wait for Them to Come to You
Other researchers continue to argue that under-engaged men in the health system don’t necessarily have a total disinterest in their health, but rather the space in which it’s delivered.⁵
This is where out-of-clinic interventions can be most helpful, such as pop-up care clinics in spaces men already are in, such as barbershops or at their place of work. Take for example worksite health promotion programs, some of which have been shown to decrease health system charges by as much as $300,000 in an 18-month period. Encouraging more care touch points doesn’t have to mean more stress on the system.⁵
- Explore Access That’s More Meaningful
As stated earlier, addressing other concerns based on a patient’s primary concern can do wonders for men who rarely engage in the system. For example, many male patients may go to a doctor complaining of erectile dysfunction (ED), after years of not seeking primary care. ED can often be a signal of some other physical condition, such as cardiac or psychosocial concerns. Providers should also be aware that ED is often diagnosed at the same time as hypertension and diabetes.⁵
Addressing men’s health with a holistic viewpoint can also help them see the bigger picture. So not only can a care interaction be used to diagnose and prescribe medications, but it can also be used to direct men to other educational or community resources that encourage them to further explore their health.
How Certintell Can Help
As seen above, telehealth solutions can be a big help when launching new preventative care campaigns to your male population. If it’s a solution that piques your team’s interest, Certintell can provide everything you need to set up a virtual care space, including an online portal, RPM devices and accompanying care managers and health coaches.
During Men’s Health Month, see how you can change the face of care today!
¹ Unicity Healthcare. “Men’s Health Month: Bringing Awareness to Men’s Health Issues During the Month of June.” Unicity Healthcare, 8 June 2018, www.unicityhealthcare.com/mens-health-month-bringing-awareness-mens-health-issues-month-june.
² Hoffman, Matthew. “6 Top Health Threats to Men.” WebMD, 12 Sept. 2008, www.webmd.com/men/features/6-top-health-threats-men.
³ Giorgianni, Salvatore. “Stigma Conference Summary: Behavioral Health Aspects of Depression and Anxiety in the American Male.” Men’s Health Network, Nov. 2019, www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/depression-anxiety-males-report.pdf.
⁴ AdventHealth. “June Is Men’s Health Month: Time to Take Charge of Your Health.” Shawnee Mission Post – Community News and Events for Northern Johnson County, 26 May 2022, shawneemissionpost.com/2022/05/26/june-is-mens-health-month-time-to-take-charge-of-your-health-147032.
⁵ Leone, James E., et al. “Practical Strategies for Improving Men’s Health: Maximizing the Patient-Provider Encounter.” Research Gate, Jan. 2021, www.researchgate.net/publication/349276271_PRACTICAL_STRATEGIES_FOR_IMPROVING_MEN%27S_HEALTH_MAXIMIZING_THE_PATIENT-PROVIDER_ENCOUNTER.
⁶ CDC. “Men and Heart Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Mar. 2022, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/men.htm.