Are men and women really that different? OK, how about if I drop the rhetoric, forget the biology and ask it again? Yup, still true, especially when it comes to medical care.
I spoke at the first U.S. meeting of the Men’s Health World Congress recently in Washington D.C. In a word, it was both exciting and sobering. Here are the facts about the current state of men’s health in the U.S.:
- Men don’t live nearly as long as women (5-year difference in lifespan).
- There is higher risk of death in men than women, and this is true at all ages.
- 1/3 of adult men do not see a doctor regularly. This occurs in <10% of women.
- This gender gap in health care is highest at ages 18-29 years, and persists until age 65 years.
- The highest income men in the U.S. have mortality rates equal to those of the poorest women.
I see what I called “medically underserved” men daily in my practice. Clearly, it’s a complicated problem, and one with many facets, including patient and provider perception, access, cost and convenience, to name a few. And because of it’s complexity, solving it will not be easy. Not only that, where do we even start?
But, what I also felt at the Congress was a subtle but deeply felt sense of energy and excitement. Like rays of light pouring through a keyhole into a dark room, concrete visions for better care were forming among colleagues all around me.
We Hold a Key
Even more satisfying was the realization that those of who specialize in men’s reproductive health actually hold a key to the door that men are just waiting to enter. Sex matters to men and that is a great ticket to their getting better care in general.
We as providers need to take the first step in solving this gender medicine problem by seizing any opportunity to inform, educate, and empower men about their health care reality. Sure, he may see us for an erection issue, but what a great time to talk about weight control, exercise and even prostate cancer screening. And we must do it in a non-patronizing way that also invites participation and involvement. Maybe like having a conversation instead of lecturing. Any by listening more than we normally do to help coax him out of his shell. Pretty simple ways to begin to end an epidemic.
Of course men and women are different. As providers, we should celebrate that difference and use it wisely to help our fellow man help himself. Vive la difference!