Many men will avoid going to the doctor until their condition is so serious that it can’t be ignored. But there can be consequences.
A startling fact: men in the United States die an average of four years before women. The life expectancy of Black and Latino men is even four years shorter than that.1 Ignoring what seems like a minor symptom now could develop into something more serious in a short amount of time.
Over my 30 years as a physician, I’ve examined and treated hundreds of men of all ages and backgrounds. Here are a few of my observations of how men approach their health:
The “young and invincible” mindset is real, especially among young men. It’s true that some conditions develop later in life. But others, like high blood pressure, prostate cancer, and kidney disease, can develop earlier.
In my work in underserved communities, the health of minority men was overall significantly worse than the rest of the population. African American men suffer from prostate cancer, high blood pressure, and kidney disease more than in their white counterparts. Latino men have a higher instance of diabetes than occurs in white men.
In addition, men of all races and cultural backgrounds are often reluctant to discuss their struggles with mental or behavioral health, which can have a major impact on their overall physical health.
All these conditions, if not caught and treated early, can have a lifetime impact. The key is to have a primary care doctor do regular exams, looking for changes or new symptoms. Unfortunately, many men tend to skip annual checkups, and instead wait until they’re sick or having symptoms to see a doctor.
Why do men skip wellness checkups?
For some, it’s a financial issue because their job doesn’t provide paid sick time to go to an appointment.
Others are afraid treatment for an illness may impact their ability to work or provide for their loved ones, so it’s easier to not know. Minority men can often struggle to find a doctor they can relate to – someone who speaks their language or with whom they feel a cultural connection. Many don’t trust the health care system, feel like they don’t get good quality care from nearby doctors, or think can’t afford to pay for care.
While all these reasons are understandable, the health care industry must help men realize that for us to be a strong support system for our family and friends, we must first take care of ourselves.
Supporting men’s health
Florida Blue strongly supports organizations across the state, like Real Men Wear Pink (Making Strides Against Breast Cancer), Gentlemen’s Quest of Tampa (mental health for teens), and 100 Black Men (scholarships and health advocacy programs) for healthier communities. And individuals without coverage can contact a Florida Blue Center for help finding affordable care, like a low- or no-cost clinic or other community resources that may be available, and help finding transportation to the doctor. Plus, the Centers regularly host healthy living events online and in person that are open to the community and at no cost. Nurses are available at no cost to talk one-on-one about health concerns and next steps.
In addition, we support our members in several areas:
We make it easy to choose a doctor: Our online provider directory provides the doctor’s picture, race, and language spoken, along with member ratings.
We encourage them to get annual checkups, which are covered by most plans at a $0 copay. If they participate in our Better You Strides2 rewards program, they can earn a reward for getting their checkup. And we can help them get a ride to the appointment.
Our care management nurses help individuals manage ongoing conditions, like heart disease and high blood pressure, at no extra cost.
The health care industry must find ways that encourage men to get their annual exams with access to doctors they can trust and relate to culturally. For medical practices, this means hiring providers and staff that reflect the community they’ll be serving, in language spoken, ethnicity, and shared culture.
Employers could consider focusing on educating their workforce about the importance of annual wellness checkups on their overall health. To make it easier for their employees to get their checkup, they could provide time off for the appointment. And, given the importance of employee health on the business’ bottom line, employers may even want to incentivize these appointments with gift cards or other rewards.
And we can all help drive awareness of the critical importance of annual wellness checkups by talking about them to the men in our lives. By working together, we can help educate Floridians on the importance of preventive care and set up our communities for a healthier future.