Address men's health with top-down approach

December 1, 2013

Understand the culturally-embedded tendency to be reluctant to seek medical treatment

In the continuing pursuit of healthcare quality improvement, men’s health and the general awareness of common symptoms and risk factors unique to men are often overlooked. The severity of this problem is equal to its prevalence, and a different top-down approach in the way healthcare organizations approach men’s healthcare is needed in order to reverse the trend.

Dr. BenzIn the United States today, the life expectancy of the average man is 76, while the average woman is expected to live to 81 years. There are no purely biological reasons behind the difference, so why does this disparity exist? Several theories have been put forth on the subject, the most compelling of which suggests that there is simply a lack of awareness-and education-of prevalent men’s health issues.

This lack of awareness, combined with men’s lifestyle factors, including cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity, adds up to a poor overall state of men’s health in the United States. In addition, men are 24% less likely than women to seek preventive healthcare, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports in Health, United States, 2012, that 74% of women and 59% of men last contacted a doctor or other health professional within the previous six months, and men were more likely than women to have last contacted a doctor a year or more ago, as well as to have never contacted a doctor.

Healthcare providers must take some responsibility, too. These alarming statistics reveal the gaps between doctors and male patients and when addressing a patient population with this mindset, healthcare organizations need to adopt a different approach, namely the advocacy of patient knowledge and preventive healthcare.

While this task sounds simple enough, it has proven difficult due to the fundamental behavioral differences in men and women. Men are more prone to internalize their worries, ignore potential health problems and have a riskier lifestyle. Unfortunately, this mindset has caused countless men to become victims of diseases and conditions that could have been easily treated or even prevented altogether.

In order to properly negate the trend of male ambivalence towards preventive healthcare, managed care organizations need to address their entire operations differently, focusing on engaging their patient population on an individual level. Male patients need to be confronted with the reality of their unique risk factors if they are to be properly motivated to seek the care they need. According to recent research, such risk factors include the following:

  • One out of every two men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

  • A man is 35% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a woman is to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • In 2013, 7,920 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer and 370 will die of the disease.

  • An estimated 13 million men, or 11.8% of all men over the age of 20, have diabetes.

  • Men are 28% more likely than women to be hospitalized for congestive heart failure.

The most effective way to combat these startling statistics is through a top-down approach addressing healthcare provider training, patient communication and cultural understanding. As executives become more aware of the nuanced facets of men’s healthcare, each of these individual areas should receive increased attention.

The first step of this approach entails training healthcare providers to be aware of the unique needs of their male patients including a basic knowledge of the statistics listed above. Healthcare staff members should be informed of the risk factors and symptoms of common conditions among men and should actively share this information with male patients and encourage them to be proactive about their health.

According to the Health, United States, 2012 report, 19% of men were without a usual place of health care compared with 12% of women. Of those with a usual place of care, men were more likely than women to consider a hospital emergency room or outpatient department to be their usual place of health care, indicating a strong line of communication between the patient and the healthcare provider is required to maintain continuity of care.

In addition, healthcare organizations must understand the culturally-embedded tendency to be reluctant to medical treatment that is common among men. Looking at the state of aging for both men and women, for example, women and our society have accepted menopause; however, there continues to be a stigma associated with aging men and the inevitable decline of testosterone levels.

With the amount of fatalities and diseases diagnosed increasing year over year, there is no better time than now for healthcare executives to take the reins on combatting the silent health crisis among American men.

 

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