It’s a fact: Men avoid doctors. Surveys show that nearly 60 percent of men won’t see one even if they think they have a serious health problem. The reasons are both medical and societal, UCI Health physicians say.
Going to the doctor, for many men, is akin to asking directions when they’re lost — something to be avoided, or at the very least delayed. But putting off medical visits can be more serious than roaming the streets looking for the right road signs.
Long delays between doctor visits
Men don’t go to doctors as regularly as women do, and many avoid visits when they’re experiencing health problems. According to 2014 data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men are three times as likely as women to have gone without a visit to a doctor or other healthcare provider within the previous five years.
A Cleveland Clinic survey earlier this year found that close to 60 percent of men will not see a doctor even when they suspect they have a serious illness.
Why men wait to see the doctor — and women don't
Young adults in general tend to be healthy and to think it will always be that way, said Dr. Regan Chan, a UCI Health family medicine practitioner at UCI Health Medical Group in Orange.
But healthy young women have more reasons to go to a doctor for preventive care. For instance, they might want forms of birth control that require doctors’ visits.
“There is no hormonal birth control for men at this time, so they don’t need to see a doctor for this,” Chan said. “Women also know they’re supposed to get checkups every couple of years for their Pap tests (to screen for cervical cancer), and there’s no similar, well-known test for young men.”
Many women become pregnant during this young-adult phase of their lives, which requires several visits with a healthcare provider. After babies are born, mothers are the ones who most often bring the babies and young children to their regular checkups; as a result, they’re more familiar with medical settings and the need for ongoing preventive care.
Because of the care they already have received, women have at least some level of comfort with doctor’s offices. In addition, menstruation gives them regular reason to think about whether their bodies are functioning in a way that’s normal for them.
“Men don’t have any regularly cycling hormonal change,” Chan said. “For men, things depend on symptoms. They’ll engage with healthcare when they have an injury or headaches, something that’s keeping them from living their regular lives.”
Partners can encourage doctor visits
When women are getting their own care, they’re also prodding the men in their lives to do the same; it’s the major reason married men tend to see doctors more frequently than unmarried men. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic survey found that a fifth of men who get themselves to the doctor do so because a wife or partner insisted on it.
“A couple of times a month, a 35-year-old to 50-year-old man comes in and says he did it because his wife said he has to,” Chan said. On their own, he added, men tend to think they’ve been healthy while young, so they’re going to stay healthy.
Dr. Faysal A. Yafi, assistant professor of urology and director of men’s health for UCI Health’s Center for Urological Care, said he’s noticed the same thing. Yafi finds that men seem more concerned about missing work for medical appointments.
“Men always talk about how busy they are and their time constraints,” Chan said. “Most men don’t even have a regular doctor they see, or a relationship with a doctor they trust.”
Struggling with talking openly
And if men are a little leery about cholesterol tests and blood-pressure screenings, Yafi says, they’re far more hesitant about seeing doctors for “below-the-belt” issues and other concerns Yafi treats as a specialist, including:
Men are often embarrassed about health issues that they feel might reflect on their masculinity, and understandably squeamish about the prospect of uncomfortable prostate or rectal exams.
The advent of Viagra and other medications for erectile dysfunction has helped to bring discussions about intimate subjects into the open, Yafi said, and giving men hope for successful treatment.
Once they’ve come in, Yafi said, men still don’t tend to talk openly about their health problems as readily as women do. So he puts extra effort into drawing them out.
“Men who come to a men’s health specialist have a story they want to tell,” Yafi said. “It’s almost like therapy. I ask them open-ended questions and let them speak as much as they want. If you ask them targeted questions, you won’t get the whole story.”
Doctor's orders for men: annual checkups
Though men don’t tend to come in for regular screenings, they really should, Chan said. “We recommend that all adults get an annual checkup for prevention, vaccines, for any cancer screenings they might need.”
There might not be any overt medical issues, but doctors can make note of any trends — weight gain, higher-than-ideal blood pressure and the like — and act to reverse those before they become more serious problems later.