The question: I struggle trying to convince my husband to go see a doctor regularly for physicals and other health issues. Are men really less likely than women to visit a doctor? If so, why and what can I do?
The answer: There are occasions in my practice when a male patient comes in for a visit without knowing why he is there, apart from "my wife sent me."
Whatever the reason – lack of time, waiting until they really feel unwell before coming in or simply not liking the experience of seeing a doctor – men seek out care less than women do.
The American Academy of Family Physicians recently estimated that over 50 per cent of men hadn't been seen by their doctor in the past year with many men noting that they wait until absolutely necessary to seek help.
The practice of seeing a doctor regularly – to review contraception, menstruation, pregnancy needs and cervical cancer screening – is instilled in women from an early age. So for them, regular maintenance is a part of life while for men, there is a tendency to visit the doctor less for prevention and more for fixing things only if broken.
That being said, there is certainly value for your husband to see his doctor on occasion. It is well established that men smoke, drink alcohol, engage in risky behaviour, and are at higher risk of certain health conditions such as heart disease more than women. By encouraging your husband to see his doctor, you can help him reduce his risk for future health conditions.
One of the main advantages is that it will build trust in the doctor-patient relationship. If your husband can feel comfortable seeing his doctor, it will increase the chances that he'll seek out care when needed.
If there is a specific reason your husband needs to be seen, such as a changing mole or he is suffering with symptoms that could be helped by his doctor, use it as an opportunity to suggest a visit. You could also offer to go with him for support. Often when my patients come in together as a pair, it helps make the process easier and future visits become more comfortable.
Another approach is to try to make the doctor's visit relevant to him. If there are health issues that run in your husband's family such as heart disease, mental health conditions, diabetes or cancer, you could suggest that he may benefit from seeing his doctor to identify his risks.
Screening for diseases that are asymptomatic are important too. High blood pressure and cholesterol are often silent but can have a significant impact on cardiovascular health. Preventative care such as screening for cancer and discussing lifestyle risks such as smoking cessation have all been shown to improve well-being by minimizing illness.
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens' Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women's Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.
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