By Christina Elston
“Part of it is because they don’t need pap smears,” says UCLA internist Camelia Davtyan, M.D., only half jokingly. She’s trying to explain why men are 100 percent less likely to visit their doctor regularly than are women. And though they don’t go, they often know they really should.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five American men has heart disease and three in four are overweight.
Diseases like prostate and testicular cancer, which affect only men, are often treatable if caught early.
And while the life expectancy of men has been increasing, they still die an average of six years younger than do women.
What They Need
“Men definitely tend to neglect preventive healthcare more than women,” says Sharon Orrange, M.D., who serves on the faculty at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and has a private practice in Los Angeles.
But even younger men need cholesterol and blood pressure screening, as well as vaccinations (flu shot yearly, tentanus and pertussis vaccination every 10 years), Davtyan says.
After age 40 Orrange urges all men to get an annual exam and to “know their numbers”:
• blood pressure
• fasting blood sugar, to detect diabetes
• fasting cholesterol panel, with levels of both “good” and “bad” cholesterol
What Gets Them to the Doctor
But those numbers aren’t likely to get men to put on the paper gown. “What drives them to the doctor is generally a problem, and it’s usually a problem they can see,” Orrange explains. Things like a rash or swelling will get them in there.
Another thing that tends to bring men to the doctor is having a family member or friend diagnosed with something.
Eric Naftulin, a 42-year-old father of three who says he’s been diligent about checkups and screenings since he turned 30, says that’s true of him. “The reason I’m so proactive with my health is because I was born with genetically high cholesterol. My paternal grandfather suffered a heart attack at 32,” Naftulin says.
Another big motivator can be true tales of others’ experiences with health issues. “We all have friends and acquaintances who get into trouble healthwise,” says Davtyan. So if someone he knows was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s a chance for you to convince him to schedule a screening.
Orrange says many of her patients are motivated by being a dad. “They all say to me, I don’t want to leave my kids at 52 like my dad did,” she says.Finally, Davtyan has found that the more informed a man is about health issues, the more likely he is to go to in for checkups.
Using the Web
Davtyan and Orrange suggest steering your man in the direction of credible medical Web sites.
• American College of Physicians – www.acponline.org/patients_families
• American Heart Association – www.americanheart.org
• American Urological Association – www.urologyhealth.org
• Real Men Wear Gowns from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services –
• U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Men’s Health Office – www.cdc.gov/men
Even if he won’t sit down at the keyboard, you can research your concerns about your man’s health and present your case in a more compelling way, according to Davtyan, who also suggests setting a good example by keeping up with your own checkups and screenings.
This beats harping on the issue. “I think the mistake we make is being the nag,” Orrange says. “If they have a partner they feel is harping on them, that will turn them off.”
Getting Cozy With Their Doc
Men also are more likely to go to the doctor if they find one who makes the experience comfortable and convenient. San Fernando Valley dad David, who only wanted us to use his first name, sites difficulty making appointments, long wait times in the office, high costs and callous treatment by office staff as reasons he stays away from the doctor. “This is why dads don’t go to the doctor,” he says. “We hate the bureaucracy and the outrageous inefficiencies and the implicit disrespect.” You can help get your man in the checkup habit by finding a doctor who suits his taste. “One of the best ways to go about it is just to find the doc, to do the leg work,” Orrange says.
• How long will it take to get an appointment?
• How is the parking? Is it readily available? Is it free?
• How accessible is the doctor? Can you call after hours and have access to a human voice? Does he have e-mail?
“E-mail is a big help for men, because then they can run something by you,” Orrange says. “For me, it’s just transformed my practice.” Approachability – the idea that a man can ask his doctor a question without feeling stupid – is another essential factor, according to Davtyan. It’s something David has found in his dentist. “He’s charming and empathetic and listens well,” he says. “His manner is always attentive and, more importantly, respectful.” Once your man gets over that first appointment, staying in the habit of regular medical checkups should be easy. “There’s a lot of negative anticipation before a checkup,” Davtyan says.
Once they see things are fine, they’re more likely to go back.
On Parenthood: Love Your Guy? Encourage Him to Know HIs Numbers!
On the Web: For more information and health-screening checklists, visit the Men’s Health Network
Christina Elston writes the Health-E blog and is Senior Editor for Dominion Parenting Media.
Posted June 2008