Men’s use of health services: is it all bad?

Thursday, November 29th, 2012 |

Men take longer than women to go to the doctor with symptoms of lung cancer and malignant melanoma (the worst type of skin cancer), according to research recently published in the Annals of Oncology. Previous research has found they delay longer than women with bladder and other urological cancers. We also know that men are less likely to take part in the national bowel cancer screening programme.

Men’s poorer use of primary care services is also demonstrated by their lower participation in the chlamydia screening programme and NHS Health Checks. They are also less likely to seek help for mental health problems, have a dental check-up or to make use of pharmacy services, especially asking a pharmacist for information or advice.

So far so predictable. But some research suggests that men’s use of services is actually rather more complex than it might at first appear.

While men delay more than women for some cancers, they appear not to for others. They also seek help as quickly as women for back pain and headaches. And the abdominal aortic aneurysm screening programme is generating a 75% response rate. (Although the AAA programme is aimed only at men, because of their far greater risk, it shows that men can be recruited to a screening programme in large numbers.)

I draw three main conclusions from all this. First, when we talk about men’s use of services, we must take a more nuanced approach and not continue to argue that men’s use is uniformly poor. Secondly, we need much more research to understand better why men delay more than women for some conditions but not others and what causes that the delays and barriers that do exist.

Finally, until we have a clearer picture, we should focus on those health issues where we know there are problems with men’s help-seeking – and there are certainly enough of those to keep us busy.

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