Getting men more engaged in their healthcare

By Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published August 8, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • As many as one-third of men believe annual health screenings are unnecessary.

  • Men avoid the doctor for several reasons, such as embarrassment and an unwillingness to change lifestyle factors.

  • Building rapport and a trusting patient-physician relationship can help engage more men in preventative care.

It’s a well-known cliché: Most men are too stubborn to go to the doctor unless something is truly wrong.

Recent research seems to back this up. A 2022 study of men across the nation conducted by Orlando Health suggests that two-thirds believe they are healthier compared with other men.[] Additionally, one-third of the men surveyed do not believe they need annual health screenings.

Doctors around the country are concerned about these results. In the Orlando Health article, author Thomas Kelley, MD, a family medicine specialist at Orlando Health Physician Associations, wrote, “It is statistically impossible for the majority of men to be healthier than the majority of men.”

This study could shed light on why so many serious health problems go unnoticed in male patients.

Dodging the doctor

Men avoiding the doctor is nothing new, although most want to try to stay healthy so that they might live longer. According to a 2019 online survey by Cleveland Clinic, among men 18 years or older, 82% said they try to live more healthfully for their friends and family—however, only 50% of those surveyed actually participate in preventative care.[]

The study found that 72% of men would rather complete household chores like cleaning the bathroom instead of visiting their doctor.

Also, 77% of men in domestic partnerships or marriages would prefer shopping with their significant other over to going to the doctor.

The study also indicated that 20% of men are not completely honest with their physicians. Their top reasons for stretching the truth included:

  • Embarrassment (46%)

  • Reluctance to face a diagnosis, even if something is clearly wrong (37%)

  • Unwillingness to hear about necessary diet and lifestyle changes (36%)

Getting men to overcome their fears

Preventative screenings and checkups help detect illnesses earlier, which makes treatment timelier and, in many cases, more effective. Doctors play a key role in the preventative care process, since good patient-physician relationships can better engage male patients with their healthcare.

Some research, including a 2017 study published in BMC Medical Education, indicates that new patients, in particular, are a vulnerable group.[] According to this study, new patients are more likely to miss follow-up visits after an initial consultation; in some cases, they may discontinue care completely.

As a physician trying to help men receive more preventative care, building a good relationship can make the difference between a patient who does not utilize healthcare services and one who becomes established in a practice.

But what makes a good patient-physician relationship?

According to the BMC Medical Education study, good rapport and trust help mitigate a patient's fears and form a connection between them and their physician. And this trust can be gained (or not) in the first few minutes of a new-patient consultation.

Other factors also play into the development of a positive relationship. True compassion and a willingness to address patient concerns are vital to building a successful relationship, which enables patients to willingly assume some responsibility for their outcomes.

Establishing rapport

Building rapport takes effort. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends several techniques for establishing strong interaction with patients:[]

  • Ask about their lifestyle issues and alternative treatments they may use.

  • Assess your own biases that may prevent you from providing the best possible care.

  • Provide care in a culturally competent manner.

  • Show empathy during patient interviews to demonstrate you understand their situation and feelings.

  • Work to enhance your listening and counseling skills.

Skills like active listening, interpreting nonverbal cues, and open communication all help when building rapport with patients.

Other actionable steps physicians can use to further develop patient relationships include:

  • Avoid judging the patient.

  • Encourage the patient to ask questions and participate in their medical care.

  • Show the patient their own lab or other test results, and take the time to explain what the results mean.

  • Provide reassurance.

These actions can all help minimize anxiety while establishing and building on a trusting relationship with the patient.

What this means for you

Men may not think going to the doctor for preventative care is important. As a physician, you are poised to help male patients understand the importance of preventative measures and encourage them to take a role in their own healthcare. Trust and rapport-building techniques can help move this process forward.

Read Next: Why do men hate going to the doctor?

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