Men’s Health Month: Closing preventive care gaps
Preventive care is key in maintaining health and longevity, so why do most men avoid going to the doctor?
June 20, 2022

82% of men cite a desire to live longer for friends and family that rely on them as their main motivator to staying healthy, yet only 50% of them engage in preventative care. In fact women are 33% more likely to go to their regular appointments than men. 

Taking preventive care measures such as attending regular exams, taking medications, and getting vaccinations greatly decrease risks of chronic illness and death. So why are so many men hesitant to go to the doctor? And how can health plans help encourage their members to schedule and keep these potentially life saving appointments? With June being Men’s Health Month, let’s take a look at underlying reasons and how plans can meet their members where they are at.

“It’s too expensive.”

Healthcare expense continues to be a concern across the board, and pockets are being strained even more with the prices of basic necessities at an all time high. 

Insurance company Aflac conducted a survey with 1000 male participants and 45% said they had postponed or skipped medical treatments and appointments due to cost. In a separate survey from 2018 it was reported that 30% of people had to choose between paying for their medical bills or covering their basic necessities.

Graph depicted changes in Medicaid enrollment from the beginning of the pandemic for February 2022

In the past few years, the pandemic and economic turmoil has put increased financial strain between inflation, supply shortages, and lack of insurance. People were also avoidant of going to in-person doctor’s visits unless it was for severe illness, since many offices were overwhelmed by COVID patients and short on nursing staff. 

Another side effect of the pandemic has been an increased lack of insurance coverage in the US which leads to even greater care costs. The rate of uninsured individuals in the US rose from 8% in 2019 to 9.7% in 2020, and Medicaid and ACA enrollment increased 22.7% between February of 2020 and February of 2022. 

Questions of cost and insurance create added difficulty in selecting a primary care physician. As of 2015, 25% of Americans did not have a noted primary care physician. 

“Going to the doctor is a waste of time if I feel fine.”

Many Americans struggle to take time off of work for healthcare appointments. Whether it’s financial barriers, general forgetfulness, or scheduling, taking time out of the day when feeling perfectly healthy can be tedious. 

According to Cleveland Clinic 72% of men aged 35-54 and 59% of men 55+ said they would put off going to the doctor for as long as they could regardless of having any symptoms or injury. 65% reported that they would rather try to self diagnose before going to the doctor. Orlando Health Hospital Systems found that the number one excuse for not making appointments was that they were “too busy”.

A member meets with their care provider

Even people working in healthcare can feel the strain of time off requests for appointments. But annual check ups and regular health screenings are critical in early detection of chronic illnesses and cancers—  which can make a huge difference in longevity and quality of life. 

Genetic predisposition also plays a huge role in chronic conditions—especially cognitive diseases where early signs are almost imperceptible to the patient. In a study that analyzed chronic diseases for their genetic versus environmental risks, 40% of the diseases studied showed that genetics played a role in the development of the condition.

The pandemic changed the way people view different aspects of day-to-day living, and that includes how chronic condition management and preventive care are viewed. Individuals with chronic conditions were at greater risk, underlying conditions were exacerbated by COVID-19 and could result in “long COVID” or even death, and ultimately the importance of widespread vaccination efforts in maintaining public health. The increased risk to health makes it all the more important to attend routine appointments and stay up-to-date on testing and vaccinations.

Beyond worrying about expenses and shrugging off preventative visits due to lack of time, another root cause of avoidance is fear. 

“I’m afraid of what they might find.”

People who have avoided regular preventive care are more likely to fear what the outcomes may be when they do finally visit the doctor. Surveys showed that men will often withhold information from their doctors in order to dodge a potentially life altering diagnosis. Reasons cited include:

Doctor goes over the results of a health scan with their patient
  • 46% were embarrassed by what they were experiencing or necessary examinations.
  • 36% didn’t want to hear they would have to change their diet or lifestyle.
  • 37% knew that something was wrong but feared the diagnosis.

Additionally, 41% of men are told within their lifetime that “men don’t complain about health issues”— creating a norm and expectation of withholding information and avoiding treatment. 

Exams may feel embarrassing, scary, or even tedious—but every day of successful intervention can add years onto a person’s life and save members and health plans thousands of dollars. 

What can health plans do?

There are many initiatives, educational materials, and seminars that encourage preventive health appointments and screenings to help members make the best choices for a healthier tomorrow. Lack of knowledge resources is not the problem—it’s lack of motivation and engagement. 

Building strong and trusting relationships with members is key to engagement but can be difficult to do at a larger scale. By partnering with digital health platforms, health plans can reach beyond reminders and postcards, and help their members take more ownership in their healthcare journey and outcomes. 

Incentives

By incentivizing desired behaviors, health plans can actively offset a lot of the barriers to their members seeking healthcare. Even small incentives within a loss aversion framework, can not only motivate members but help ease the financial burden of everyday necessities. 

Properly utilizing incentives helps overcome the present bias experienced when facing the fear and anxiety that often comes with scheduling regular check-ups. When members are monitoring their health regularly there are fewer surprises and lower medical bills. And by offering bonus incentives for preventive care appointments, health plans can increase member accessibility. 

Breakdown of how Wellth members spend their rewards

Personalization

Making efforts to get to know members on an individual level will not only improve engagement but close care gaps. The more health plans can learn about their members’ healthcare barriers, the better they will be able to help their members. 

Quality measures emphasizing the importance of surveying for Social Determinants of Health are pushing the needle for improving care gaps. However, transparency on efforts to alleviate the pressures of Social Determinants of Health, individualized outreach, and fostering an inclusive environment will help welcome members and keep them engaged and healthy. 

Digital health platforms

With so many in healthcare feeling stretched thin, making fundamental changes can be a large task. Therefore, many are seeking innovative platforms to assist in meeting the needs of their members and address these barriers to healthcare. 

Using principles of behavioral economics, Wellth supports health plans by meeting members where they are at and addressing obstacles that prevent members from engaging and forming the habits they need to see better health outcomes. Offering incentives for daily health habits, a personalized member journey, and live support team make sure that members needs are being met and their voices are heard. 

With the constant noise of daily life, the pandemic, and economic shifts, preventive care is fighting for its much needed attention. Digital platforms like Wellth help make the healthy choice the easy choice.