Do you believe that Sasquatch exists? How about zombies, vampires or ghosts? If you saw a unicorn, would you, like Kiersten White in Endlessly, think: “It’s like a demented goat with a bone growth?” Are urban lore, Greek mythology and folk tales just that? Maybe not.
Unicorns are People Too
A well-known unicorn in medicine is the young man engaged in his health care. Outside of life threatening or utterly painful conditions, most men are nowhere to be found. Last fall, at an NIH meeting about worldwide trends in human reproduction, we acknowledged this massive, global, gender gap in health care, and wondered why men are disenfranchised by the system. This made me really perk up, almost spilling my watered down coffee. As a doctor whose practice is entirely devoted to men, and an eternal optimist, I said: “I’ve seen it. It’s possible.”
In my experience, men are people too. They breathe regularly, get dressed like everyone else, ponder, regret, laugh, suffer and cry. And when you approach them just right, they will engage, and often fiercely so. The trick is to craft their care to fit their needs. I maintain an industry leading 90+% engagement rate with patients using simple tricks like staying on time, educating as much as possible, using extensive telephone (instead of office) visits and on-line tracking after surgery. It is most definitely possible.
Play by the Rules
So, what does it take to truly engage men, to get them out of their shells and admit to, and therefore own, their human frailty, fallibility and fears? Here are the unspoken rules of engagement:
- He must feel safe.
- Meet him where his is.
- He must feel trust.
- Avoid retribution.
- Give him numbers. Men love numbers.
- Demystify the language.
- Incorporate culture into care, whether it be sports, cars, politics or art
- Customize the care. Tune it to his needs.
- Listen to him.
- Make it rewarding for him.
- Show him he’s the center of care and not just “add on” element
- Promote the notion of “honorable men.”
- Engage his family.
- Use humor to change behavior.
Engaging and empowering men to take care of themselves is one of modern medicine’s greatest challenges. And it’s not just a goat with a bony growth. Come to our pop up art show this week and see what I mean. Ponder the art forged from life’s deep angsts, preview the Clyde Brothers’ movie, “If I Could Tell You,” and I promise you will get a glimpse of real live unicorns.