Celebrated each June, Men’s Health Month offers an opportunity to raise awareness about and discuss men’s health issues, which have been brought even more to the forefront amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Becker’s asked hospitals and health systems to share the biggest problem they face related to men’s health right now, as well as how they’re working to address them.
Below are responses, presented alphabetically:
Reg Blaber, MD. Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer for Virtua Health (Marlton, N.J.): The biggest problem for men’s health right now is convincing men to return to their doctors for preventive health. The pandemic has created its own epidemic of healthcare avoidance. Many men (and women) have avoided both routine checkups and care for acute, serious symptoms over the past 14 months, out of concern they might be exposed to COVID-19 in a healthcare setting.
In doing so, men have been skipping important preventive measures such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, depression and prostate cancer screenings, as well as colonoscopies. Unfortunately, this “medical distancing” has resulted in gaps in care that put people at greater risk for poor health outcomes.
Additionally, so many men (and women) have also been cooped up at home, not exercising and often stress eating. As such, many have gained 10, 20 or more pounds, putting them at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Virtua Health is reaching out to people proactively to address these gaps in care. We’re doing this for both our highest-risk patients in our value-based primary care network, and for our own 15,000-member workforce. We have a team of nurses who call patients and schedule their annual physical exams, colonoscopies and dietary education. They also screen for challenges that men (and women) might experience with the social determinants of health, and we offer social work support to address these issues.
As a result, we are finding more people willing to attend needed visits for diagnostics and screenings. For example, in 2020, we saw a 53 percent reduction in overall care gaps for patients over age 65, and a 62 percent reduction for those under age 65, through our value-based programs compared to the prior year.
Additionally, our high-risk employees have accepted 78 percent of the care coordination services we’ve offered. This includes scheduling services that close gaps in care.
Daniel Chandler, MD. Primary Care Physician at Tufts Medical Center (Boston): I think the biggest issues for men’s health right now are getting back into the normal cadence of our prior lives, including a greater focus on our health. The boundaries between work and home have blurred, and that has created difficulties for some to carve out time for self-care, like exercise and eating healthfully. It has also led to considerable mental health issues over the past year-plus. Symptoms of anxiety and depression have escalated in response to the stressors of pandemic life, including social and emotional isolation, financial insecurity and new family pressures with changing schedules and children often schooling at home.
In response, at Tufts Primary Care–Boston, we have met patients where they are, introducing a telemedicine platform within weeks of the CDC’s recommended closure in 2020. We always maintained in-person availability as well and helped set up and staff a respiratory clinic for evaluation of those concerned about possible COVID-19 exposure. As we now move to another phase of the pandemic and enjoy more liberal access to services like healthcare, we are transitioning yet again and rebalancing our availability between telemedicine and in-person visits so we can continue to ensure that all of our patients get what they need, when they need it.
Kathleen Hwang, MD. Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Director of Male Reproductive Health at UPMC: When it comes to taking care of their own health, men don’t always make it a priority. Coupled with the fact that many of the leading causes of death among men can be prevented, it is incredibly important to provide easy access to specialized men’s healthcare. Getting men into the office to have a discussion about their concerns is the first step.
With cardiac disease as one of the top threats to men’s health and erectile dysfunction as an early marker of cardiac disease, it becomes even more important to provide easy access to care, to educate patients on prevention and provide an environment that is supportive and focused on male sexual health. Sexual function is a sensitive topic, and often men will suffer in silence or self-treat with “medications” purchased online. UPMC created a center that is focused on men’s health with staff that is sensitive to the challenges of talking about these topics. UPMC has also created multiple avenues to reach out to the center that can be as straightforward as a direct phone line to a simple online query.
Clinton Purvance, MD. President and CEO of Barton Health (South Lake Tahoe, Calif.): Men tend to visit doctors less often than women, and the pandemic has highlighted this issue. Given June is Men’s Health Month, Barton Health uses this time to focus efforts on educating men in our community on the importance of scheduling general health screenings and understanding their health status at a young age so they can act on any issues if necessary.
Through tools such as educational articles, wellness webinars and reminder letters, we educate men on health topics related to age, screening tests and immunizations, as well as general health, hygiene, nutrition, exercise and more.
Men and women alike are encouraged to follow suggested timelines for health screenings, which include benchmarks for particularly important men’s health screenings like colonoscopies, prostate exams and wellness blood draws assessing cholesterol levels, glucose levels and immune system disorders.
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