Engaging men in primary healthcare services

7 min

Most Australian men (95%) consider their health important, but not as many of them engage often or regularly with primary healthcare services1.

There’s a lot that health professionals and practice staff can do to make it easier and more comfortable for men to access health services, disclose health concerns and understand clinical information. 

This article provides guidance for primary healthcare services and providers to better cater to their male patients. 

Understanding men’s use of healthcare services

In general, men visit the doctor less often than women, have shorter consultations and tend to present later in the course of illness. But this does not mean they lack interest in their own health, or want to avoid healthcare. 

Men monitor their own health, and they pay attention to the onset and progression of disease symptoms.

Their decisions to seek help depend on the nature of their illness, its impact on their lives, the duration of their symptoms and their previous experiences with healthcare services2.

Where men get health information

The most common sources of health information used by men are family members, the internet or a healthcare professional1.

Younger men prefer to use the internet, and older men more often choose a doctor or nurse as their first source of health information1.

Men are critical users of health information, preferring reputable sources that are known or recommended to them.

They may use online sources of health information to prepare for a visit to the doctor, but generally they do not see the internet as a replacement for a visit to a doctor3.

Community-based organisations, such as Men’s Sheds, are a common and effective means of providing health information for many men4.

What men value from healthcare professionals

Men prefer collaborative interventions involving action-oriented problem-solving5.

What this means is that when men seek care, they want a prompt resolution of their problem by cooperating with a clearly competent and empathetic health practitioner, who takes a direct approach to the problem and might use humour to lighten the mood6.

Men who have a regular GP are more likely to attend routine check-ups and disclose health information to their doctor than men without a regular GP.

A good relationship with their GP can motivate men to make an appointment to see them, to attend for regular check-ups, and to follow through with treatment and screening tests. 

Men appreciate having a doctor who knows their medical history, so they don’t need to revisit it each time3.

What men need from health service providers

Barriers to men accessing healthcare services may be structural (e.g. lack of services) or systemic (e.g. poor communication between men and healthcare professionals).

Structural changes to health services that create male-friendly settings, cater for the time constraints of many men, and integrate telehealth and other new technologies can improve men’s access to healthcare.

Systemic changes that improve practitioners’ ability to relate to male patients, and their knowledge of men’s health, will likely increase men’s use of healthcare services.

Men’s willingness to seek healthcare is influenced by past experiences, so positive interactions will facilitate greater use of healthcare services.

The health literacy and information needs of men are varied.

Health professionals should tailor their approach to providing health information to ensure men are adequately informed about what they need to do for disease prevention and resolution.

Men may be reluctant to raise sexual or mental health concerns. But if their doctor enquires about these topics, they generally welcome the discussion and provide relevant information8.

Features of primary care practices that cater well for men

Characteristics of practice staff that engage men in primary care

The impact of traditional masculine stereotypes

Men’s adherence to stereotypical masculine traits, such as stoicism, self-reliance, strength and control can stigmatise, and discourage, seeking healthcare9.

There is widespread recognition in Australia that traditional masculine stereotypes are both inaccurate and harmful.

Freeing men from these restrictive stereotypes will likely be good for their health and wellbeing, and that of society more generally10.

Health services should avoid blaming men and making assumptions about their behaviour, and focus on solutions rather than problems when providing care.

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