June marks Men’s Health Month, where we encourage our male employees to take charge of their physical and mental health by engaging with available worksite health services. Study after study shows men face significant health risks but often forgo needed care.
Consider these stats on men’s health:
More than half of men over age 20 have high blood pressure, significantly increasing the risk of heart disease.
One in eight men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, which is the most common cancer in men and the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the U.S.
The average U.S. male life expectancy is 73.5 years, more than five years shorter than the female life expectancy.
The data not only shows how men are at risk for serious diseases, they also visit the doctor far less than women. In fact, one study found that about 65% of men wait as long as possible to see their doctor if they have any health symptoms or an injury.
Stigmas Surround Men’s Health
“There’s a stereotype that men are supposed to be strong and robust and be able to move through not just physical health issues, but also mental health issues with little to no help,” says Kirsta Norwood, a physician assistant at Marathon Health. “There’s a certain degree of admitting their invincibility when men seek a provider’s help.”
We, unfortunately, live in a culture where men are expected to show strength at all times, and many men think visiting a doctor exhibits a sign of weakness.
“I think men in general, we try to take care of everyone around us,” says Randy Archibald, also a physician assistant at Marathon Health. “We make sure our family’s good, we work hard and we want our kids to be healthy. We worry about everyone else so much that sometimes we neglect taking care of our own health.”
Other reasons men avoid medical care include a fear of the unknown to experiencing intrusive exams. “Men often worry that they’ll have to talk about an uncomfortable topic or undergo an uncomfortable physical exam. And I understand where that comes from if that’s not something you’re used to,” Archibald says.
Comprehensive Physical Exams Catch Men’s Health Issues Early
A comprehensive annual physical exam can detect many of the most pressing men’s health issues, so long as men make the effort to see a doctor. Early detection of problems is key before health problems have caused permanent harm.
During a physical, the provider checks a patient’s blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, as well as inquires about stress and anxiety, sleep, diet, and more. The provider can also screen for men’s health issues like low testosterone, trouble with sexual performance and prostate cancer.
“At every physical exam, we’ll go through all the recommended screenings and guidelines and make sure a patient’s caught up on immunizations, blood tests, colonoscopies, all that stuff,” Archibald says. “If you make an appointment once a year for a physical exam, we’ll have a chance to make sure you’re up to date. Then, you have a much better chance of catching a problem before it becomes a cancer, before it becomes complicated.”
Both Archibald and Norwood say they understand physical exams make many patients feel uncomfortable, but they stress it’s just business as usual for them. And thanks to advances in modern medicine, many of these tests are far less intrusive than they once were.
For instance, the prostate-specific antigen test can detect elevated PSA levels from a simple blood test, a much less invasive method compared to the traditional screening. Additionally, providers can now screen for colon cancer by giving patients at-home tests versus scheduling a colonoscopy.
“We want men to understand that we don’t need to invade your privacy for some of these screenings,” Norwood says. “It can be as hands-on or as hands-off as you’re comfortable with.”
Encouraging Men to Engage with Worksite Health Services
Although men resist routine care for a variety of personal reasons, employers can help motivate employees to take action by openly talking about stigmas, making it easy to access health services and encouraging spouses to motivate their husbands to schedule an appointment.
Norwood says most times spouse or family support can “light a fire under a father or husband” encouraging him to engage with a healthcare provider. In fact, a Cleveland Clinic study found personal and family responsibilities drive healthy behaviors in men, with 82% wanting to stay healthy for friends and family who rely on them.
Employers should consider working with their employer partner to directly engage with employees and their spouses to get them to utilize the health center services. Shannon Isom, Sr. Director of Member Engagement at Marathon Health, says they incorporate monthly health observances into their annual engagement strategies to increase utilization. “For Men’s Health Month, our providers did targeted outreach to individuals who hadn’t received their prostate screening. We also scheduled onsite or virtual lunch and learns with employees to help educate men on the topic.”
Many employers also incentivize their employees for getting a biometric screening, annual exam and preventive screenings, or for attending lunch and learns like the one mentioned above. Incentives might include gift cards or a discount on their annual healthcare premium.
When it comes to stigmas, employers should regularly communicate to employees and their spouses about available men’s health services, promote the benefits of preventive care and encourage male employees to share their positive experiences from utilizing employer-sponsored health services. “We have to break down the stigmas,” Norwood says. “Just because you see a doctor doesn’t mean you’re weak. And while taking that first step can be difficult, I want to remind patients nobody’s here to judge you. Our conversations are just springboards for you as a patient to better yourself for yourself.”
While it may be unsettling for some men, Archibald says the comfort that comes with regular testing far outweighs the minor inconvenience of visiting a doctor.
“The peace of mind that you get from testing is so much greater than the fear of not knowing something might be wrong,” Archibald says. “Let’s do the checks. If we find something slightly abnormal, we can figure it out. But if we don’t know, that’s where it gets really scary.”