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Men's health: closing the gender gap

Preparing a lecture recently on the topic of men's health caused Donna Davenport to consider why men continue to be disadvantaged when it comes to health promotion ...

Recently, I decided to ask a number of male friends and family of varying ages when they would go to the doctors; and without fail, every one of them said "When I am not well".

None of them seemed to appreciate the services and preventive work that go on in general practice, or the fact that if they didn't want to bother the doctor with a health need they could see someone else, such as the practice nurse or nurse practitioner.

They all said that they had experienced problems getting an appointment, and in the current economic climate one wonders whether being granted time off work to attend a doctor's appointment has become even more difficult.

It will be interesting to see if the extended opening hours introduced into general practice will have a positive impact on men's attendance. As we go deeper into recession, we hear of people being made redundant on a daily basis, and most of these will be men. We know that this will have an impact upon their heath and wellbeing in the future, so we need to act now.

The workplace has been identified as a key setting in which to improve health and reduce health inequalities, and it would make sense for practices to work in collaboration with employers to improve the health of their workforce. Surely the workforce and both parties would benefit from such an approach in improving the health of men, particularly lower down the social scale.

Another approach might be to go where men go – a strategy that has been tried across the country with varying levels of success. However, I have yet to hear of anyone going to the local barber's shop to access men for health promotion and public health initiatives. Isn't it interesting that men have no problem sitting in a barber's with no appointment for a substantial length of time for a haircut, but wouldn't dream of doing this at the doctor's surgery?

It has been said that men's health is a social issue as opposed to a medical one; so clearly we need different approaches to tackle men's health. Men generally take a "stiff upper lip" approach when things go wrong with their health and put things down to getting old. We know that men do not discuss health in the same way women do and much of this is to do with society's perception of gender differences. Hence, primary healthcare professionals need to take this into consideration if improvements are to be made.

Have you taken a different approach to men's health in your practice? What has made a difference and how did you engage with them? Share your experiences so that other practices can develop similar strategies in their areas. Have any of you asked your male patients what they want, at a patient forum or network evening? If we don't communicate with them we won't understand what makes them tick. Perhaps it is time we did!

Gray M. Fundamental Aspects of Men's Health. Wiltshire: Cromwell Press; 2005.

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"To the point. Mehzar Iqbal and Andrew Harrison in Targeting Ethnic Minorities did use the Barber shop for their outreach - See Conrad D, White A. (2007) Men's health, How to Do it. Radclife Publishing Ltd, Oxford." - Clive Insley, Sefton