- Written by Louis Bezich Louis Bezich
Compared to women, American men perform miserably on most measures of health behaviors, but perhaps the most serious affliction men exhibit is their healthcare attention gap.
The numbers tell the story. Men visit their doctor for preventive care half as often as women. Surveys show that the rate of men who had not seen a physician during the prior year is three times greater than women, and 33% did not have a primary physician, compared to women at 19%.
Finally, 24% of men said they would wait as long as possible before seeing a doctor, despite warning signs, with 17% of them indicating they may wait at least a week!
Through my research on men’s health, I’ve had the opportunity to interview a number of physicians, one of whom is Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, winner of the MacArthur Genius Award in 2013 for his work creating a comprehensive effort to confront the healthcare needs of an underserved urban population.
When I asked Brenner about his experiences in treating men over 50, he said that he treated many of them, and, as he put it, “I saw them committing suicide slowly.” He explained how he saw men have stroke after stroke because of factors that were entirely preventable.
He also witnessed their wives becoming caretakers and confirmed that “guys don’t talk,” referring to their unwillingness to share what’s on their minds.
Brenner places a good number of men he treated in the “dismissive” category of attachment style, meaning they sought a high level of independence, sometimes avoided attachment altogether, and denied needing close relationships. This included their physician.
It’s this avoidance of healthcare and dismissiveness of its importance that has plagued men of all socioeconomic categories for years. A survey by the Orlando Health hospital system suggested that a man’s reluctancy stems from a number of reasons: busyness, fear, shame, and discomfort.
Where’s the hope? It starts with Brenner’s suggestion that 80% of health is attributable to psychology and social factors.
His counsel reinforces my research of healthy-behaving men over 50 and my findings that social factors are a strong source of motivation for healthy behavior; this social pathway represents a new way to confront the alarming state of men’s health.
In ratings in excess of 70%, the men I studied confirmed that their life’s priorities — that which they value most in life — played a major role in starting and maintaining their healthy lifestyle. They think about their priorities at least once a week.
The results were consistent with perhaps the most comprehensive study of men’s health in history, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, an ongoing longitudinal study for over 75 years that has tracked the lives of 724 men (and now their children) and examined the factors that influence their health.
According to its director, Dr. Robert Waldinger, “The clearest message that we get from this study is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier” and that “social connections are really good for us.”
So, there you have it. Want to convince a man to see a doctor? Start with a strong focus on his social and emotional relationships. Help him connect the dots between his personal aspirations and his behavior.
Men who make this connection see their health as a means to an end. The endgame is a fulfilling and purposeful life.
With a man’s motivational platform in place, you can now use tactics like those prescribed by the Men’s Health Network for getting a man to the doctor and breaking the healthcare-attention gap:
• Find health providers who have weekend and evening appointments or have offices close to his work.
• Schedule simultaneous appointments for both of you and make fun plans to do something together afterward.
• Find out whether he is more comfortable seeing a male or female healthcare provider, and make sure he’s seeing the one he prefers. On a related note, try to avoid physicians who tend to scold.
• Recruit male friends or relatives with good health habits to help reinforce your message.
• Point out the connection between good health and good physical and mental performance in sports, work stamina, etc.
• Gently remind him that the example he sets when forming lifelong health habits influences his children and their life habits.
• Decide on an exercise routine that involves and is enjoyable to both of you.
• Encourage him to celebrate Men’s Health Week (June 10–16) by seeing a doctor about annoying health problems or getting a thorough checkup.
Louis Bezich, author of Crack the Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50, is the senior vice president of strategic alliances with Cooper University Heath Care. With more than 40 years of experience, Bezich is also an adjunct professor at Rutgers University.