You may have heard about men’s health initiatives that are happening in our community right now. From Movember to the BEARDS for BMH campaign, there is increased focus on getting men to see their healthcare practitioner on a regular basis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, men are half as likely as women to schedule physicals or preventive services. One explanation is that routine screening tests for women—such as pap smears and mammograms—are clearly connected to particular age brackets. As a result, women are more likely to develop a regular habit of seeing their medical provider. There are many reasons, however, why men should also get regular check-ups during each life stage.
Increasingly medical providers are using the term “wellness visit” when talking about physical exams. This more accurately describes a new focus on preventive health, regular health screenings and lifestyle choices.
We see patients of all ages at a family practice like mine. For younger children; it’s all about safety and immunizations and then at about age ten or eleven, the exams start to diverge to greater awareness around sexuality. For a teenage boy, this is an opportunity to talk about male physical development in a personal, healthy way and get answers to questions from a professional.
As the teenager turns into a twenty-something, there are new issues that have growing immediacy and implications. Your family’s history with disease, risk factors related to your job or lifestyle choices might mean a wellness visit every two years for one patient, but more or less often for another. These visits should be frank and open in order to build a relationship between patient and provider that can help with the prevention and early detection of health problems. It is the transition time for a young man to take ownership of his heath care. This is also when young men learn how to perform a self-examination for testicular cancer, a disease for which a younger man is at higher risk.
In our 30’s, men need to be aware of, and screened for, issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels during the wellness visit. Just because you feel fine, doesn’t mean you do not need routine check-ups. Many of the diseases that men are at high risk for don’t carry any outward symptoms. What’s more, when a man reaches this stage of life he is at greater risk of stress related to his job or family. This stress can negatively impact his physical health if it goes undetected. Again, more than tests, these issues can be proactively dealt with starting with a conversation during a wellness visit.
It’s often in our 40’s that men are more apt to start regular visits to their family practitioner. Unfortunately, this is also the time of life a friend or family member may have had a prostate cancer scare or early heart attack. These types of incidents still seem far in the future when they happen to a father, uncle or grandfather, but it makes an impact if it happens to a peer. Certainly, I encourage my patients to make the time for a visit when they are in their forties but this is easier and more effective if they have established a routine for these periodic visits.
As men enter middle age, 40s through 50’s, cancer screenings become more important. If a man has been making regular wellness visits, his provider will have a solid foundation to recommend appropriate steps to check for prostate and colorectal cancer. Wellness exams are also an opportunity to discuss other important men’s health topics like erectile dysfunction, bladder health and other issues that may start to appear at this age.
As a patient becomes old enough to be eligible for Medicare, safety comes back to the forefront in wellness visits. At this stage of life men need to be conscious of tripping hazards and mental acuity. I also ask about their mood and disposition. The goal is to assure them not only of physical health but a quality of life as they get older. The planning of Advanced Directives also becomes increasingly important.
Preventive medicine actually received a nice boost when Medicare started paying for wellness visits. Many other insurance companies followed suit and dropped co-payments for these visits. Removing the financial barrier is a great incentive for more men (and women) of any age to get routine exams. Talk to your health insurer about how wellness visits and screening tests are covered by your plan. You may have a low-cost path to good, lifelong health available to you.
Tony Blofson, MD, is a board-certified family practitioner with Maplewood Family Practice in Brattleboro, a member of the BMH Physician Group and is Medical Director of the BMH Physician Group. He can be reached at 802-254-1311.