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Men’s health matters: the crucial role of primary care

Although healthcare is important for everyone, interactions with medical care can differ largely depending on your gender. According to the
Centers for Disease Control, women are 33% more likely to visit the doctor than men, and women are 100% better at maintaining screening and preventive care. 

Tryon Medical Partners internal medicine specialist Dr. Christopher Buehrig weighs in on the importance of primary care, the obstacles that prevent men from accessing care, and what men should focus on when they do make it to their appointment. 

Why is primary care important?

Dr. Buehrig is an advocate for the many benefits of primary care. Primary care clinicians are your guide to the medical world, your advocate in the medical system and the first line of defense in getting the care you need. 

Having a good relationship with your primary care clinician ensures you have a medical advocate who is intimately familiar with your medical history, decreasing the chance of medical errors and increasing the odds of a positive patient outcome. Additionally, regular visits with your primary care clinician are key in early prevention of medical issues in the future. 

“I have to badger my male friends to go see their physicians,” Dr. Buehrig notes. “You have a choice between seeing your doctor now or a member of ER staff at 2 a.m. when something is horribly wrong. Choose your physician early, establish a relationship with them and then you have someone you trust for the important moments.” 

What is keeping men from visiting the doctor?

There are a number of reasons that hinder men from turning to a primary care clinician which Dr. Buehrig details: 

  • Expectations of masculinity. Generally, society expects men to appear strong. Because of this, some men don’t want to seem vulnerable, or like they are weak for asking for attention. Going to the doctor often requires some level of help-seeking, and that can be seen as counter to traditional concepts of masculinity. 
  • Access to healthcare. Exposure to healthcare settings may be different for men who work during the week. Although many practices offer weekend hours and virtual visits, it can be more difficult for male patients to make time for an appointment given typical work schedules. Additionally, many women spend more time child-rearing than their male counterparts. So when a child is sick, mothers are often the ones who bring their child to the doctor’s office while their male partner is working, providing them with additional exposure to healthcare settings. Men often feel like their health is not as important as their ability to provide for their family, so they just don’t go. 
  • Speciality care. Traditionally, healthcare hasn’t been targeted specifically to men or their unique needs. There are, however, women’s health centers and medical specialties (OBGYN) dedicated to gender-specific care. Without the equivalent for men, it’s not uncommon for men to say at age 40 that the last time they saw a doctor was when they were seeing a pediatrician. 

“Treating high blood pressure in your 20s is easier than treating heart disease in your 60s,” Dr. Buehrig points out. “So it’s important we increase men’s access to the healthcare system in any way we can.” 

What are some primary care considerations for men specifically?

While women seek attention for holistic issues (cholesterol, heart disease, etc.), men typically come to the doctor throughout their life with specific concerns around sexual dysfunction and issues with urination. 

  • Young men. It’s common to hear from young men about their concerns around sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and low testosterone. 
  • Middle-aged men. When men hit their 40s and 50s, they come in with concerns about their urinary flow and urinary tract infection symptoms. Fortunately, these are issues that are often easy to address once identified. 
  • Elderly men. As men get older, erectile dysfunction issues become more common. Other health problems like high cholesterol, blocked arteries, cancerous malignancies and diabetes can contribute to this. 

“Men come to the doctor later in life,” Dr. Buehrig notes. “The very reason why they are having to see their physician could often have been prevented by addressing said medical issues with their doctor earlier in life; problems now perhaps much more difficult to treat.” 

What should men focus on in their primary care appointments?

When men do make it into their appointments, Dr. Buehrig recommends focusing conversation on the following topics: 

  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Cholesterol 
  • Mental health 
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Substance use abuse (caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes) 

If you have more questions about healthcare needs specific to men, book an appointment.