Looking Ahead: Empowering Men To Take Control of Their Preventive Health

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By Carl A. Ross, RN, PhD, FNP-BC, CNE
University Professor of Nursing, Robert Morris University

Men’s health has gained prominence as an issue since 1990 as a result of concern that men were having poorer health outcomes compared to women, particularly in preventative health care. Research conducted during the last decade found that men are less comfortable with the health system, understand it less, and negotiate it less effectively than women. The major challenge that becomes an issue in men’s health is that it is hard for primary care providers to promote men’s health before illnesses develop when the men do not visit the provider very often. Men are reluctant to engage in preventative healthcare during their early and middle years, a time that is significant in illness prevention.  Taking time off work for health care is often seen as a sign of weakness.  Health care providers need to explore ways of making the system “man friendly,” or take the system to those men who are not currently seeing a provider.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) examined the leading causes of death among men.  The majority of causes had links to lifestyle-related behaviors like smoking, poor diet, having uncontrolled or undiagnosed chronic conditions, and taking risks that lead to injury.  Most of these causes could have been either prevented or significantly delayed.  As advanced practice nurses we understand the importance of preventative health care and its impact on reducing disease and disability. Primary care providers have to look ahead and identify strategies that will play an important role in helping men avoid illnesses.

The findings in the literature supported the need to implement men’s preventative programs in the workplace, gyms, and rural underserved areas.  The National Health Disparities Report (NHDR) identified three major barriers to health that affect Americans: the lack of health insurance; the lack of usual source of care; and the perception of need.  The lack of health insurance often led men to postpone seeking medical care.  Men without a usual source of care had greater difficulty obtaining the needed preventative services such as blood pressure monitoring and prostate exams.  Cultural barriers and beliefs also are factors in men’s failure to receive preventative screenings.

Men, in particular, have less knowledge about health and specific diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Men’s lack of knowledge about health and the link between knowledge and preventive behavior suggests that increasing health knowledge may be an effective intervention strategy.

The evidence supports the need for preventative health programs for men, but there is little published evidence on how to improve men’s use of preventative services.  Men’s health is still a young research topic, and health care providers must look ahead to generate evidence supporting creative strategies to empower men to become involved in their preventative health.  One of the first ways health care providers can meet this challenge is to find ways to learn about the meaning of health and the cultural health patterns and health care decision making of the men they treat. Increasing the understanding of health care values and practices among male clients would help the provider give men more appropriate care.

Advanced practice nurses can play an important and pivotal role in providing health care services to men and help eliminate health disparities and dissolve men’s mistrust of the medical community.  We should work with other health care professionals to improve men’s health status and their knowledge of diseases and risk factors.