When it comes to seeing a doctor, many men are notorious avoiders. Many of us have seen it ourselves and there are reports that men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor in the past year.
“I think it's just men being men,” said Dr. Hayes Woollen , a family doctor at Novant Health Hallmark Care in Charlotte “It's just not at the top of their agenda necessarily. I think their spouses would say they need to put it there.”
After all, a man's life expectancy is shorter than a woman's, and many guys who die early succumb to preventable causes.
But men with proactive partners are more likely to seek preventive care that helps keep deadly threats like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and cancer at bay, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So if your partner can't remember when he had his last physical and recoils at the very idea, what can you do?
“What you definitely don't want to do is nag,” said Dr. Carmen Robinson of Novant Health Clemmons Family Medicine. “Appeal to a man's sense of virility and longevity. A partner can say 'I want you to be around for your family and for me, and the only way we can do this is to go to the doctor.'“
1. If your guy insists he's too busy, make the appointment for him. Better yet, make a day of it, Robinson suggested.
Book wellness exams for the whole family on the same day (“It appeals to a man's sense of logic and scheduling”). Or make them a couples-only activity. (“You take the afternoon off or get off work early, get your annual wellness exam, then go see a movie or out to dinner,” Robinson said. “Turn it into a nice together-date activity.”)
2. Another strategy: Tell your partner you don't want him to go through the same health problems that close relatives have had -- especially if lifestyle changes can head them off.
By their late 20s, all men need to find a primary care doctor they trust and visit him or her at least once a year, Woollen said.
“I tell my friends all the time that what we got away with in our 20s and 30s, you can't fake after your late 40s, so it's really important to make sure your blood pressure is correct and your labs are optimized,” he said.
Robinson added: “Some fear being told things they don't want to hear, like they need to exercise more, lose weight, stop smoking or stop drinking so much. And in a general sense, men often feel it's weak to tell somebody else your problems -- it's seen as not manly.”
3. Getting men to speak up and take lifelong responsibility for their health needs to start in boyhood.
“It is up to the parents -- and men -- to set a good example for their sons,” Robinson said. “So think about little things like a boys’ day trip -- Dad gets his annual exam and his little boy gets his annual exam. Seeing that example emulated in their father is an important imprinting that we can get on boys.”
Why? A yearly checkup is the best way to get on top of health issues-- from high blood pressure to sexually transmitted diseases and cancer -- before they get serious.
“A lot of those ‘ticking time bomb’ issues we can confront and dramatically reduce or eliminate if we know soon enough,” Woollen said.
That's why, for instance, men (and women) should have a colonoscopy at age 50. If no trace of colon cancer is found and the patient stays symptom-free, a follow-up isn't necessary for 10 years -- a timetable that should reassure all but the most reluctant guys.
4. Partners might also want to reassure their men about what takes place at during a yearly physical. Many have wrong ideas about what to expect, especially if they've heard older men grouse about the experience.
For one thing, doctors no longer routinely do urine tests, Robinson said. Similarly, a digital rectal exam to look for prostate cancer is no longer the standard. These days, new guidelines call for doctors to discuss symptoms and risks with men between ages 55 and 69 and to decide if the exam is needed based on that chat.
Men can expect the doctor to check their blood pressure and vital signs and offer immunizations as needed. They’ll be screened for depression and asked about their family history. The doctor will ask about their own medical and sexual history, as well as their diet, exercise and use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
Urge your guy to be frank. Honest answers help the doctor gauge a guy's disease risk and decide what blood tests to order. It all takes about 30 minutes.
5. If your partner is still uneasy, offer to join him in the exam room. It's best, though, Robinson said, to stay quiet and let the patient speak for himself.
“Sometimes that presence, being there out of support is very helpful to getting good health outcomes,” she said.
Click here to find a Novant Health doctor near you.