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November 15, 2018

Telehealth for Men—No Embarrassing Gowns Required

man using phone to get medical care from home

For almost as long as there have been doctors, there have been men who are reluctant to go see them. And that avoidance has real consequences. Experts speculate that the life-expectancy gap between men and women can be partly attributed to men’s tendency to skip annual checkups and routine health screenings.

In a recent survey conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, 35 percent of men are comfortable talking about their health only as related to sports injuries. In a list of topics that include weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, cancer, GI problems, erectile dysfunction, and urinary issues, the second most common response was “I’m not comfortable discussing any of these health issues.”

When men do talk to someone about their health concerns, it is as likely to be their spouse or partner as it is to be a physician. It’s been shown that married men live at least 10 percent longer than single men. Perhaps that’s because almost 20 percent of men admitted the reason they finally sought medical care was to stop their partners from nagging them about it.

This all paints a pretty discouraging picture, but there is hope. Maybe if health care was easier to access, took less time, and gave men a way to share potentially embarrassing symptoms in a judgement-free way, they’d be more likely to use it.

Enter: virtual care.

One of the most common reasons men cite for avoiding the doctor is that they are too busy. When you add up the time it takes to schedule an appointment, drive or take public transportation to the clinic or doctor’s office, sit in the waiting room, and fill prescriptions, it’s easy to see why they feel that way. Video visits don’t help save much time either since an appointment is often still required and the wait time can be a challenge. And almost no one wants to be on video. Asynchronous virtual care allows men to get care at any time of day, often in just minutes. And they can get that care from anywhere.

For many men, the idea of discussing potentially embarrassing conditions and symptoms keeps them out of the doctor’s office and avoiding video visits. Research has shown that patients are more open and honest when they receive care via store-and-forward telehealth, largely because they are answering questions privately, rather than confessing uncomfortable facts while face-to-face with a doctor.

One of those conditions is depression. Men are far less likely to recognize the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Perhaps because they don’t realize what it is, they try to cope in destructive ways such as smoking, working overly long hours, and drinking excessively. Their failure to understand their symptoms means they are less likely than women to seek help for it. Even when they suspect they have depression or anxiety, they are reluctant to talk to anyone about it.

An asynchronous platform that allows them to be open and honest with their care provider, and receptive to the advice or treatment plan that provider offers, can help encourage more men to address their behavioral health issues.

Many men don’t want to get care for “little stuff,” so they won’t go to the doctor until they’re convinced that what they have is critical. But if they have an option for quick, convenient care that doesn’t require a face-to-face visit (whether in-office or via video), and that they can access anytime from anywhere, they’re more likely to seek help for issues or symptoms they consider less urgent. That early access can stave off more serious issues that develop when symptoms are ignored, and it can even encourage men to seek in-person care in situations when it’s actually necessary.

There are reasons men avoid healthcare that telehealth can’t fix—how cold it is in exam rooms, or having to be naked under the dreaded patient’s gown, for instance. But making it easier for men to access healthcare privately, more quickly, and from anywhere at anytime can go a long way to easing some of the fears men have about seeing the doctor. And that’s a win for everyone.

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