Nobody likes going to the doctor, but men are especially reluctant to seek care. According to a survey by the Cleveland Clinic, 72% percent of men would rather do household chores – including cleaning the bathroom – than go to the doctor. Only of those said consider getting an annual check-up is a regular part of taking care of themselves.

This means men are missing out on the treatment of issues and important screenings and other assessments that can prevent illness, avoid serious complications, identify useful interventions and improve overall health and well-being. And that’s not just a concern for male employees and their families.

Consider the Business Impact

“Your employees’ longevity and job satisfaction are critical to the success of your organization,” asserts Petar Bajic, a urologist and men’s health expert in the Center for Men’s Health at the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at Cleveland Clinic. “By promoting physical and mental health and well-being, employees will be healthier and happier.”

Your organization will also be healthier. When employees don’t get the preventive and maintenance care they need, organizational performance suffers from lower productivity and higher absenteeism. Consider this data from the CDC:

  • $1,685 per employee in annual business productivity losses from personal and family health problems 
  • $36.4 billion lost from missed workdays by employees with one or more of five diseases and risk factors: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity and obesity

Understand the Roots & Risks of Reluctance

Helping men seek care takes more than good insurance because the reasons for their reluctance are complicated, according to Ricardo Perez, vice president of Jefferson Medical Group – New Jersey, including, “fear of embarrassment, apprehension about showing weakness and social stigma associated with the perception of male strength.”

“In the healthcare industry, we should be advocates for healthy living,” he continues. “When we deal with patients, we should be knowledgeable about this topic, and exhibit it individually. Supporting a healthy lifestyle for the male staff encourages the spread of this lifestyle to others in the organization. It is the ‘normalization of wellness’ if you will.”

The risks of reluctance are high, particularly as it pertains to the two leading causes of death (heart disease and cancer) and increased impacts of unchecked mental health issues, including suicide:

  • 47% of American men die of two types of conditions: heart disease (24.2%) or cancer (22.5%). “The first concern is risk of heart disease,” Perez says. “Annual physicals use various tests to assess the probability of early disease. Control of blood pressure and cholesterol is critical in mitigating the risk. For males, the biggest cancer concerns involve prostate cancer and colon cancer. Checking for a baseline PSA, along with a general prostate exam is basic maintenance. Screening colonoscopies, depending on family history, can allow for early intervention, and a possible cure.”
  • 13.4% of men received any kind of mental health support in 2019, only 10% had taken medication for mental health and 7.2% had received counseling. “Although a majority of men expressed they were more stressed out due to the pandemic, a smaller percentage of them said they felt comfortable talking about their mental health issues,” Bajic notes. “This speaks to the tendency of men to bottle things in.”

Overcome the Barriers

Understanding why your male employees hesitate to seek care enables you to design programs and approaches that address the obstacles head-on. Here are three ways to encourage men to get healthcare:

  • Leverage specialists. Specialists can be effective advocates for general health and well-being. Men are more likely to consult a physician when they experience conditions such as erectile dysfunction and painful urination. Urologists like Bajic capitalize on the in-person or telehealth visit to look for warning signs of non-urologic issues and make referrals on the spot to other specialists. The American Urological Association even has a checklist to help urologists identify opportunities and collaborate with other specialties. A similar effort is underway in the dental professions, with a move toward counseling and screening for chronic disease prevention, including oral cancer, thyroid issues, diabetes mellitus and smoking. This kind of interprofessional interaction is encouraged by the CDC through its One Health initiative, a collaborative and transdisciplinary approach that promotes better health outcomes.
  • Meet men where they are. A common barrier is taking time away from work to go to a doctor’s appointment. In-house wellness fairs offering quick screenings and fast counseling are an effective intervention. “A simple blood pressure check or finger stick can be early indicators of disease,” Perez says. “These venues can provide education, guidance and support. Individuals can then be encouraged to look after their own health by establishing a non-judgmental path for them to follow. Formal follow-up with this is essential for success.”  
  • Make mental health easier. “At our healthcare organization, the pandemic has empowered our staff members to look after their own,” Perez reports. “A cadre of volunteers were trained in the basic signs of mental health issues.” It’s also helpful to encourage participation in EAPs and hotlines, which ensure confidentiality. “Employees can anonymously call a hotline to simply speak to someone about any anxiety or stress. Based on the conversation and need, the volunteers can help them get in touch with mental health services, when warranted. There are also mental health questionnaires that can provide a quick screen for mental health issues.”

Taking an active role in improving the health and wellbeing of your male employees is a true win-win.

“Healthcare organizations want a happy, healthy and engaged staff,” Perez concludes. “This has a multiplier effect in terms of increased productivity, fewer sick days taken, and increased engagement. An investment in the health of your staff [also] establishes a deeper connection between them and the organization.”

About Margot Carmichael Lester

Margot Carmichael Lester is a North Carolina-based business and brand journalist who has covered healthcare and staffing for more than 20 years. She also writes about moviemaking for the International Cinematographers Guild, specializing in action cinema, and co-authored the award-winning teen writing book, Be a Better Writer. She earned her BA in journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and is a rabid Tar Heel basketball fan.