MEN'S HEALTH ∙ 3 minute read

Why do men seek healthcare less often than women?

By Dr Parisah Hussain

Our survey on men and healthcare revealed some shocking facts about how often men see a doctor. From those who completed the survey, nearly half of men had their last appointment with a doctor at least 6 months ago, with 4 out of 10 admitting their last appointment was over a year ago. Perhaps most surprising of all, 1 out of 10 men can’t even remember when they last had an appointment.

When it came to health screenings, 4 out of 10 men had their last blood test over a year ago and 1 out of 10 men have never had a blood test or health screening. 

When it comes to women, it’s a different story. 

There’s been a significant gender gap for many years, with men twice as likely to wait for at least 2 years to attend their next doctor’s appointment compared to women. 

So, why do men not access healthcare as often as women? Are there societal issues? Are there barriers preventing men from seeking help? 

Let’s look at the possible reasons behind this. 

1. Traditional views on masculinity

There are certain views on masculinity and what it takes to be a man. Traditional stereotypes see men as self-reliant, tough and strong. This societal view demands men to withhold their feelings and emotions, maintain superiority over others and resist asking for help.

This can lead men to feel that seeing a doctor is a sign of weakness that goes against societal norms. 

2. Fear of receiving a bad diagnosis 

When symptoms arise, so does a fear of receiving a poor prognosis. Some men may feel that it’s better to not know at all rather than face bad news and have to make major lifestyle adjustments. Subsequently, ignorance is bliss. 

When a man receives a diagnosis, they may fear being judged by doctors or other healthcare professionals. Even today, the stigma around certain conditions lingers. It may be particularly difficult to open up about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

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3. Avoiding embarrassment 

Some men may feel that having certain physical symptoms such as urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction, or retrograde ejaculation are embarrassing. However, what they do not realise is that these health problems could be secondary to other undiagnosed pathological health conditions. Having abnormal urinary symptoms can be due to benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), or in more serious cases, prostate cancer. In this day and age, we can’t afford to miss out on a diagnosis of prostate cancer, especially as early treatment is crucial for a positive outcome.

Erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of diabetes mellitus or underlying cardiovascular disease, which can be managed if diagnosed early on. If the underlying health problem is treated, then the embarrassment and discomfort from having erectile dysfunction will cease to exist. Erectile dysfunction doesn’t always indicate a health condition and is often caused psychologically. This doesn’t mean that treatment isn’t available with plenty of different options including sildenafil, Viagra, tadalafil, and exercise all effective treatments for erectile dysfunction.

4. Uncomfortable physical examinations 

During consultations, the doctor may ask to perform a physical examination on the patient. Some examinations which are commonly performed on male patients include digital rectal examination (DRE) and external genitalia. Some men may feel that these examinations are too intimate and invasive. As a result, they become reluctant and are unlikely to book an appointment to see their doctor about it. Moreover, referrals to have investigations such as colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy in the hospital may be requested. Again, some men may feel that they’re inappropriate or too invasive. This causes a problem. If these examinations and investigations do not happen, men will present their symptoms to the doctor at a much later stage when their health condition has become significantly worse. The correct physical examinations can easily prevent this.

The question is: what can we do about it? 

Let’s narrow the gender gap. 

1. Be honest

It’s important for men to be honest with their doctors and not to withhold nor disclose any information that may result in a missed diagnosis. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth. Doctors and other healthcare professionals aim to protect patient confidentiality. Their duty is to protect your dignity and to make sure that your well-being isn’t compromised.

2. Support from loved ones 

If you’re someone’s friend, relative or partner and you know that person has not seen their doctor for a very long time, try to encourage them to book an appointment to have a health check and any necessary blood tests and investigations. If they’re still afraid to visit, go with them. It’s always nice to have someone with you along the journey, no matter how long it is or what it entails. 

3. Healthcare campaigns for men

There are more TV adverts, social media campaigns and new digital healthcare companies (like Numan), all of which promote healthcare awareness in men, encouraging vigilance for certain diseases and conditions. An improvement in educating the male population will mean it’s easier to approach a healthcare professional. Our mission is to inspire men to take action and make seeking healthcare when it’s most needed an utmost priority.

Dr Parisah Hussain

MBChB, BSc (Hons)

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