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It’s Time Men Took Their Health Seriously: Closing the Care Gap with Self-Care

There is a long-standing care gap affecting men worldwide. This year’s Men’s Health Week focuses on ‘Taking action on COVID-19’, and for good reason — recently, studies have found that men are twice as likely to die of COVID-19. Still, this shocking statistic is indicative of a darker trend affecting men.

It’s a well-known fact that men receive significantly less doctors’ time in medical encounters than women. Men are also more likely to skip appointments and less likely to monitor their health and detect chronic diseases early on. 

Men’s health — a social matter?

Of course, men’s poorer survival rates aren’t only due to a lack of medical consultations. Poor health among men is a result of several factors, including more significant occupational exposure to physical and chemical hazards, social behavior factors associated with men’s propensity for risk-taking, and health behavior that is often associated with masculinity. For example, when men see a doctor, they are less likely to report disease or illness symptoms. This may be as much as a social matter as it is a health problem. Consequently, women have a longer life expectancy than men.

A significant obstacle to improving men’s health then is men’s apparent reluctance to consult a doctor. Men avoiding medical check-ups is a long-standing problem. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) shared the perspective that ‘men must be included in the global health equality agenda.’ Later, in 2018, WHO published their draft strategy on the health and well-being of men.

The evidence to merit the attention of a global health organization is startling. As much as 65 percent of men say they avoid going to the doctor for as long as possible and only go when they fear serious illness. A 2019 survey found that only half of the 1,174 adult men surveyed said they get regular check-ups, and 72 percent would ‘rather do household chores such as cleaning the bathroom’ than see their doctor.

Addressing men’s health is no small task, but I believe self-care can be the means of closing the care gap between men and women. We have a duty to educate and empower men to invest time in their health, implement basic self-care practices and improve their health literacy, in order to live a longer, happier and healthier life. However, this will only happen if we proactively work for the further inclusion and recognition of men in general health policies which will give us the frameworks needed to support men in adopting beneficial self-care practices. So, what solutions are available to provide better access and healthcare to men?

Using self-care to close the care gap

Thanks to modern technology and digital health applications, gaining access to high-quality health metrics is now more accessible and convenient than ever. Wearable health tech and home-based medical equipment, such as a smartwatches or blood pressure monitors, are allowing us to care from the comfort of our own homes. These tools can provide insight into unhealthy habits — for example, according to the Mayo Clinic, too much sitting can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Additionally, monitoring blood pressure at home can indicate whether medication is working and alert doctors to potential health complications.

A second practical step that men can take is to improve their health literacy. Current gender discrepancies in this area are particularly problematic, with a study of British adults finding men to be twice as likely as women to have limited health literacy. Therefore, promoting simple actions such as, researching the tell-tale signs and symptoms of common men’s health issues — heart disease, lung cancer, prostate cancer, kidney stones — can help to identify illnesses early on and drastically improve mortality rates.

Finally, a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the increased availability of remote consultations. According to WHO, telehealth consultations accounted for at least 27% of all appointments in France at the height of the pandemic in March 2020. For men, access to a doctor from home may result in a more satisfying healthcare experience while reducing the time commitment and effort required to visit a doctor’s office.

We’ve witnessed several innovations in the healthcare space supported by the broader self-care community during the past year. In the past decade, technology has revolutionized how we practice health, improving the healthcare experience for everyone. I’m optimistic that these benefits, along with greater access to information and health metrics, can help close the health gap affecting men, and for good.

by Judy Stenmark

Director General of The Global Self-Care Federation

Switzerland

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