When your spouse, partner, father, or other important adult male in your life won’t go to see a doctor, what can a concerned woman do? If you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year, and they are 22 percent more likely to have neglected having their cholesterol levels checked.
The Agency also finds that men are 28 percent more likely than women to be hospitalized for congestive heart failure, 32 percent more likely to be hospitalized for long-term complications associated with diabetes, and more than twice as likely to require amputation of a leg or foot due to diabetic complications. Failure to get immunized for pneumonia contributes to the fact that men are 24 percent more likely than women to be hospitalized for pneumonia.
Why men won’t see a doctor
According to a study presented at the American Sociological Association in San Francisco in summer 2009, men who strongly value old-school ideas about masculinity, such as men should be strong and silent and not complain about pain, are only half as likely as other men to visit a doctor for an annual physical or seek other types of preventive health care.
In a similar vein, a 2007 study conducted for the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) of more than 1,100 men found that 92 percent said they wait at least several days to see if they feel better before they seek care from a health professional. Nearly 30 percent push the envelope and say they wait “as long as possible” before considering a doctor visit.
At the time, AAFP President Rick Kellerman, MD, remarked that “One of the biggest obstacles to improving the health of men is men themselves. They don’t make their health a priority.”
Tips on how to get a man to a doctor
- Offer encouragement. In the AAFP study, 69 percent of the men said they had a spouse or significant other in their lives, and of those men, nearly 80 percent said the other individual had an influence in their decisions to go to a doctor. If you are trying to encourage your spouse or partner to go a doctor, he may consider it to be nagging. The secret may be in the delivery: gentle suggestions work for some men, while others respond to a more direct approach. Only you know how much so-called “nagging” may be helpful—or turn him off completely.
- Express concern. Offer to listen to his reasons why he doesn’t want to go to a doctor. Talking about it may give him a different perspective.
- Express understanding. Men frequently comment (not always to their partners, however) that getting a physical exam and undergoing tests can be embarrassing or uncomfortable. A physical for prostate or urinary tract problems, for example, involves a digital rectal exam and examination of the scrotum, which may make some men feel uncomfortable, just like some women dread or avoid gynecological examinations for the same reason. If discomfort is an issue, perhaps you can work together to find a healthcare provider with whom your partner or spouse feels comfortable.
- Send him e-mails. These should be brief but relevant communications about the health issue(s) that concern him. For example, if he has been experiencing problems with urination or erectile dysfunction, you might send an e-mail containing a “Prostate Health” checklist from a men’s health website.
- Go to screenings together. For basic preventive care, you can offer to go with him to screenings. Hospitals, clinics, community health fairs, senior centers, and other venues often offer preventive screenings for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose, PSA, and bone density. These events are typically low-key, nonthreatening affairs.
- Help him find a healthcare provider. Among the reasons some men give for not going to a doctor are “I don’t have time” and “I don’t know of a good doctor in my area.” You can reduce or eliminate these excuses by gathering information about doctors and specialists in your area, getting recommendations from friends and other trusted healthcare providers, and investigating the potential candidates on the internet.
- Go to health lectures. Healthcare providers frequently give presentations to the public at hospitals, community centers, or other venues. Cities that have teaching hospitals often have such programs on a regular basis. Attend these programs together or encourage your spouse or partner to go. They are an excellent way to learn more about a specific doctor and/or medical condition and may be the trigger that gets a man to go to a doctor or seek medical help.
You have a better chance of convincing the man in your life to go to a doctor if you and he understand why he is reluctant to go, educate yourselves about the available medical care in your area, and then work together to make it happen.
American Family Physicians. Men’s Health Study
Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality