The following piece was written by Wood River Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jonathan Gates and published in the Westerly Sun in June 2023.
In my experience, the healthcare industry often operates under the perception that “we don’t need to go to the people – the people will come to us”. Meanwhile, successful industries have worked tirelessly to make sure we are aware of all the “services” they offer. You can’t pick up your phone or visit a website these days without seeing ads. Why don’t we have the same experience in the healthcare field? I believe this has to do with healthcare being something people need more than something people want, but we’ll come back to that.
Compared to women, men underutilize healthcare. Women are almost two times more likely to complete a primary care visit every year compared to men. Yet men have higher cancer mortality rates than women for all body sites combined. These two things are almost certainly related. There’s a lot to unpack there, but in brief: when men delay preventative care, they are deprived of many of the cures of modern healthcare. So why aren’t men seeing their primary care providers? While there are many factors, in the scientific literature it often boils down to simple masculinity and social norms.
A carefully constructed study of 900 men and women revealed that, strangely, while men are more willing to be screened, they are twice as likely to have never been screened. We do know that having a test for prostate cancer (a PSA test) actually makes men less likely to undergo a colonoscopy. It has been suggested that the experience of fear of finding prostate cancer while waiting for results makes some men less likely to pursue other screenings. Starting at 45, every man (and woman) should be screened for colon cancer. And there’s good news – now you can get a colon cancer screening test to take in the privacy of your own home. This simple test, which should be covered by your insurance company, can reduce the chance you need of a colonoscopy by about fivefold. Only when the test is abnormal is a colonoscopy needed.
During Men’s Health Awareness Month, I encourage you to talk with your male friends and family members about seeing their primary care provider – maybe even make the analogy, “You’re due for your oil change!” While we can’t bargain with biology; we can test for and cure many cancers when they are found early.