Save our men by making GP visits more manly

HEALTHY ATTITUDES: More males are being encouraged to visit their GPs and stop the rising male heart attack and stroke rate.

HEALTHY ATTITUDES: More males are being encouraged to visit their GPs and stop the rising male heart attack and stroke rate.

News again a man has died far too early. Don Randall, 62, the federal MP for the seat of Canning, was found dead of a heart attack in his car last month.

Heart disease, strokes, they swat our men as if they were flies.

There are the stories like those of Angus Hawley, 46, who died in April, reportedly after suffering a heart attack , a day after flying from Sydney to New York. He’d worked out and then had dinner with friends. Or David Goldberg, 47, the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, who collapsed on a treadmill , struck his head and died.

We can’t know whether regular visits to general practitioners would prevent deaths like these – but we do know this.

It’s hard to get men to visit the doctor. And when they do go, they don’t go very often. Men are nearly three times as likely to die of coronary disease as women – and much less likely to use preventative health checks like cholesterol checks. And by the time men and women reach the age of just 15, women spend longer with their GPs than men.

So, how do we keep our darling men alive?

It’s a good question, if Jason Thompson is anything to go by.

He’s 40 and a researcher in Victoria. A while back he was having constant headaches. Now Thompson is not a fan of visiting the doctor. Takes too long. Doesn’t get much out of it. What’s worse is that he works in health himself, in rehabilitation.

“They are not going to tell me anything I don’t know or can’t look up myself,” he says.

And so it proved. He waited ages in the waiting room to get in to see the GP. Spent a handful minutes in there and was out again, with no useful insight from the doctor.

“Your time as a patient seems to be worthless and a GP’s time seems to be precious and more important . . . I was looking for something more and you are in and out of the doctor in two or three minutes [but] it’s taken you and hour and a half to go through that process.

“And I don’t want to sit around in a waiting room full of people who are sick,” he says.

The headaches went away – probably more to do with stresses he was having in his personal life. His tactic now is to only go to GPs if he needs a referral to a specialist.

But Thompson also thinks that there is a stage-of-life problem.

“You end up very unfamiliar with doctors if you don’t have children.”

Regular visits aren’t part of the male endeavour. Clinics aren’t adorned with posters exhorting men to #feeltheirnuts. Instead, it’s soft focus women discreetly feeling breasts. Or close ups of babies about to be immunised.

Tim Senior, clinical senior lecturer in general practice at the University of Western Sydney, says we must rethink the way we get men to go to the doctor. He doesn’t think being punitive - that’s the perfect recipe for men to become defensive.

Instead, Senior says we should take general practitioners to men. Maybe we don’t have to install a clinic at Bunnings. Maybe we could try having roving GPs at sporting venues. At men’s sheds. Anywhere  men actually go, although possible not at sausage sizzles or the pub. The important thing is, though, to make general practice less of a women’s domain so men feel more comfortable getting advice about prevention and cure.

There are three good reasons for men to go to the doctor and only two of them are what you might immediately think of: getting fitter, stopping smoking. But Senior says we should also recognise GPs are a place where men could get the opportunity to talk about their mental health – and maybe that’s why some men are reluctant.

The numbers make it clear. In the year between April 2013 and March 2014, nearly 90 percent of women aged between 25 and 44 saw  their doctors at least once – but not quite 75 per cent of men. Women that age saw their doctors more than six times a year – with men, it’s about four and a half.

Clare Bayram, a research fellow at the University of Sydney, says women can motivate their partners to go for checkups. Her research in 2003 showed men were more likely to disclose to their partners than to a GP.

She also says that men, particularly young men, don’t have established relationships with doctors which can make it hard for them to see a doctor when they need to.

Finding doctors with flexible hours can help  - and understanding that the way a man might want to visit a doctor is not the way a woman might want to visit a doctor, says Bayram.

And in Adam Dunn’s case, he never wants to visit a doctor. He’s an academic with a PhD in computer science who works right next to a hospital. Even when he spent a month not being able to hear properly, he put off going.

“I’m too busy, I don’t have enough time to go and I think I can fix everything myself. It ends up on the bottom of my priority list.”

Turns out that he had wax in his ears. He knows he should go more often. He has a bad neck. He is pretty sure he has high blood pressure. He drinks six to eight coffees a day and works about 80 hours a week.

When he did get his ears sorted, the doctor checked him out and told him he should have some blood tests.

And those are now bottom of his priority list.

Maybe Dunn’s doctor could pop in to his work. Or work right next to his barista.

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