Men's Health Month: How to Get More Men to Go to the Doctor
Jun 23, 2021 Rosanna Turner
Research shows that men are less likely to go to the doctor than women. Men are also more likely to skip health screenings, ignore health recommendations from their primary care provider and engage in riskier behaviors that can be detrimental to their health.
Dr. Nitin Kapur, a primary care physician at Cedars-Sinai, says the reason why men don't go to the doctor stems from cultural messages that they receive from a young age.
"We culturally condition men to be the breadwinner, to be providers, to be strong," Dr. Kapur says. "We teach them not to be vulnerable, but the very act of seeing a primary care provider is a vulnerable experience, because you have to talk about your physical health."
Why men should take preventive care seriously
For men, delaying care can lead to serious health consequences. Dr. Kapur says that men are more likely to wait until their symptoms worsen before going to the doctor and neglect preventive health screenings.
"Men are more likely to come to me in their 60s and 70s with uncontrolled blood pressure problems, but they haven't been seeing me regularly or coming in for preventive visits," Dr. Kapur says.
Explaining to some men why preventive care is important can be a challenge.
"Some men have this idea that 'Nothing bad can happen to me—it will be OK,'" Dr. Kapur says. "I hear this so frequently in my clinics. It goes along with the idea that men feel invincible."
"We culturally condition men to be the breadwinner, to be providers, to be strong. We teach them not to be vulnerable, but the very act of seeing a primary care provider is a vulnerable experience, because you have to talk about your physical health."
Encouraging men to get the COVID-19 vaccine
Even when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination rates, there's a discrepancy between men and women. In April 2021, data analysis revealed that women were getting the COVID-19 vaccine at higher rates than men.
The reason behind this difference is unclear, but Dr. Kapur says he's not surprised to hear that men are lagging behind women in getting vaccinated.
"Some men have said to me, 'I haven't gotten sick yet. I'm not that guy who gets colds and the flu all the time, so why should I get the vaccine?'" Dr. Kapur says.
"In these cases, I say to men, 'We're trying to prevent you from getting sick. I'm happy you've never had the flu or only get a cold once every decade, but that's precisely why you should get vaccinated.'"
Preventive measures, such as vaccinations, help maintain your function and keep you in excellent health, Dr. Kapur says.
Health screenings men should be aware of
Preventive health screenings may seem optional to some men, but identifying the risk of certain diseases and health conditions early on can significantly improve treatment outcomes.
The crucial need for colon cancer screenings in men received national attention in 2016, when actor Chadwick Boseman was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 40. Boseman died in 2020 after his colon cancer progressed to stage 4.
"Cancer can strike men in the prime of their life," Dr. Kapur says.
"To have a man say, 'I take care of my body. I work out. I can bench press 300 pounds. And I see my doctor every year. I get my blood pressure checked—why can't that be a form of masculinity?"
Getting into the habit of regular doctor visits
While boys and men might feel pressure to be physically fit or have their bodies look a certain way, there's less emphasis on their actual health. Dr. Kapur wants to change that.
"To have a man say, 'I take care of my body. I work out. I can bench press 300 pounds. And I see my doctor every year. I get my blood pressure checked—why can't that be a form of masculinity?" Dr. Kapur says.
"In the same way that men have an accountant, a mechanic or a lawyer that they can go to and trust, we should normalize men having a relationship with their primary care doctor."
Even for men in their 20s and 30s who are healthy, visiting a doctor for a yearly checkup helps get them into the habit of seeing a physician regularly.
"Once I've created a relationship with a male patient, hopefully I will continue to seem them yearly, so that we can catch disease before it shows up," Dr. Kapur says.
Bringing attention to mental health struggles in men
While many people tend to go to their doctor for their physical health, Dr. Kapur says that for men, their primary care physician can often be the first person they talk to about mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
"Men don't engage with mental healthcare the same way women do," Dr. Kapur says. "They're skeptical about therapy and less likely to seek out mental health services."
Because of this, Dr. Kapur says it's just as important to ask men how they're feeling as it is to address their physical symptoms.
"Your primary care doctor has a wealth of knowledge in many areas," he says. "If you're depressed or anxious, we can guide you to the right mental health resources."