June is National Men’s Health Month, and this week is National Men’s Health Week. To help providers connect with those patients who tend to be a bit reticent to acknowledge issues when it comes to their health, Privia would like to offer some tips for effective communication while in the exam room.
First, we’d like to take a moment to celebrate and extend a heartfelt “thank you” to the men in our lives – husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, and the like – who make our world a better place. Without their love and support, many of us might not have enjoyed all of the personal and professional successes over the course of our lifetimes. With that in mind, the tips below should help guide interactions in the exam room when your male patients are difficult to connect with.
Dig a little bit deeper by asking simple, probing questions
Building a relationship with your physician can be daunting – especially for male patients immersed in a culture that often regards reserved stoicism as a foundational quality of masculinity. Men make about two-thirds as many healthcare provider visits as women do while also tending to make more risky decisions. As a result, men are generally less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than women, making it even more important to connect with your male patients as a healthcare provider. Your male patients often do want to connect with you, but may not be sure how to do it. Ask some simple, probing questions about themselves, and give them plenty of leeway to answer (time-permitting). Learn what makes them tick at a basic level. Humanize the relationship again, and show the value of tackling their health concerns as a team.
Take a moment to help prioritize their goals in life
Absent the need to correct an urgent medical issue, understanding your patient’s current priorities – personal and professional — is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle when connecting with them. For instance, is your patient a 25-year-old male, who hopes to continue playing club hockey into his mid-thirties, or is he a 55-year-old whose cholesterol is high, and has just found out he will become a grandfather for the first time? Is he a 40-year-old struggling to balance the demands of work, while making time for his daughter’s piano recital? The answers to these questions are invaluable in determining how to frame your recommendations to your patients. Set them on a path to healthy success by helping them define their priorities for themselves.
Connect routine health maintenance to the important things in life
As often is the case, we gain perspective on the important things when the going gets tough – typically during times of tragedy or duress, we’re granted what can seem like otherworldly clarity about how we should spend our time – this is especially true when immediate changes are needed in order to course correct, but the lessons learned are forgotten when the dust settles.
In times of good health, discuss the value of routine health maintenance. Spend a moment connecting the dots between a healthy lifestyle and their priorities. Provide perspective when the pace and challenges of life might not give them time for proper reflection about the importance of following your plan of care.
Teach your patients to “slow down to speed up” (and rinse and repeat)
Though most often applied in professional settings, this approach to tackling problems is also incredibly successful when employed in one’s personal life. The concept is simple: be methodical in your approach to life and it’s ever-present challenges (physical, mental, emotional), and you’ll find the speed with which you achieve results will increase.
For example, you might recommend a particular course of treatment for a newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetic patient, which includes a yearlong protocol for lowering their blood sugar. At first glance, this may be overwhelming for your patient and could result in a mad rush through the program to produce the desired outcome. However, if this same plan is broken down into multiple, manageable parts, they can slow down and tackle each task in succession without losing focus on the bigger picture.
Being methodical in this context can mean many things, and it’s important to recognize that what works for one problem might not work for another. Encourage them to explore what works best for them in each scenario — diabetes and depression are not the same problems, and the definition of success and the timeline for realizing it will be radically different, in most cases.
Finally, instill in your patients that improving their healthcare is an iterative process. It will require a constant reapplication of this framework. Don’t let them be discouraged by the nature of slowing down, and offer words of affirmation when they’ve completed a task or course of treatment successfully.
Key takeaway: break down barriers with your patients, and give them the tools to put their health in context so they can prioritize and manage it on a long-term basis.