How can you encourage more male customers to take better care of their physical and mental health?

It is well known that men are less likely than women to visit their GP surgery or a pharmacy. They are also less likely to acknowledge illness or to seek help when they are unwell. According to the male cancer charity Orchid, men are also behind women when it comes to regular health self-checks.

A recent Orchid ‘Men’s Habits’ survey revealed that men are more likely to tidy the house, wash the bed sheets and do the ironing each month than they are to check themselves for testicular cancer. Less than 30 percent check themselves for the lumps and bumps that could be a sign of the disease. By contrast, women are twice as likely to check themselves for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, with approximately two-thirds of women doing so on a regular basis.

A recent Cancer Research UK study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, looking at emergency cancer patients, found that more men than women are likely to have had no prior GP visits, possibly because they’re not acting on ‘red flag’ symptoms. If diagnosed as an emergency, patients are more likely to have poorer outcomes as they usually have a late stage of the disease.

It’s not just men’s physical health that’s under par. Male mental health is an issue not often discussed, and one that men struggle to talk about. Four in every five suicides are male, and men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent.

So how can pharmacies encourage more male customers to take better care of their physical and mental health?

National campaigns

This year’s Men’s Health Week, from 12 to 18 June, focuses on ‘belly fat’ – the type of fat that affects men more than women and is linked to an increased risk of chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and high blood pressure. By getting involved in Men’s Health Week and other similar campaigns (such as Movember in November), pharmacists may attract more men in-store and discuss relevant pharmacy services.

“Men’s Health Week is an ideal opportunity to piggyback on a national campaign,” says Dawn Williams, head of customer development at Celesio UK including Careway. “So pharmacists could think about offering a special ‘well man clinic’ with blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests, for instance. If they are able to spot a medical condition that requires further treatment, then it is likely they will have a loyal customer for the future. However, the problem often lies in men being reluctant to come into a pharmacy in the first place, so pharmacists may want to consider window displays that highlight products and services that are relevant to this audience.”

Pharmacies tend to focus on services for physical health problems, such as weight management and heart health, and mental health is often neglected in the pharmacy setting. According to the Mental Health Foundation, men are almost 50 percent more likely to never seek medical support for a mental health problem than women and are 40 percent more likely than women to wait over two years or never tell friends or family about their mental health problem at all. The charity believes that Prince Harry’s interview recent is highly significant, making him a role model for men across the country. The Heads Together campaign is a coalition of eight mental health charities, recently launched by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aiming to change attitudes to mental health.

 

Targeted advice

According to the PSNC, health is often socially constructed as a feminine issue. Health campaigns and events should normalise health discussions and actively encourage men to speak to healthcare professionals if they have any concerns. Pharmacies should find out if local GP surgeries offer ‘Well Man’ clinics, so customers can be referred to these if necessary.

“Community pharmacies are very accessible, which is certainly helpful, but often men will not ask for help or advice until their situation becomes critical,” says Stuart Gale, chief pharmacist and owner of the Frosts Pharmacy Group (three Oxfordshire stores and Oxford Online Pharmacy). “Certainly, making the availability of services targeted at men's health very clear in community pharmacies is a good place to start. Posters and leaflets can help to raise awareness. In addition, offering a consultation room to patients so that these potentially embarrassing conditions can be discussed in private is also a must.”

Pharmacies need to cater for male-specific or male-dominant issues, such as hair loss, athlete’s foot, sports injuries and digestive problems, as well as targeted pharmacy services. “Men come in to the pharmacy so rarely, they don’t realise they can talk in private,” says Sultan ‘Sid’ Dajani, independent community pharmacist and member of the RPS English Pharmacy Board. “They also don’t know about smoking cessation clinics, for example. POS material tends to be geared towards women, children, the elderly or vulnerable groups. It needs to be less gender-specific, so it encourages brief interactions when men approach the counter. Every contact counts.”

 

Suitable signposting

The PSNC says signposting men to reputable health information on the internet is important, as they may refer to the information later on. Recent research from TENA Men found that the rise in the number of men looking for information on diagnosis websites (36 percent), the NHS online (43 percent), as well as in books (13 percent) and leaflets (30 percent), represents a growing hunger for health information, yet increasing numbers (67 percent) are opting for self-diagnosis.

Erectile dysfunction is a very common condition, believed to affect around half of men between the ages of 40 and 70 to some degree. Around two-thirds of affected men do nothing about their condition or resort to the internet to buy medication illegally. However, erectile dysfunction can be a warning sign of cardiovascular disease and should be properly assessed.

The erectile dysfunction PGD enables some pharmacies to supply treatments without a prescription as a walk in service. But increasing access to sildenafil through pharmacies further would mean more men get the help they need and could potentially reduce heart attacks and strokes. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and Men’s Health Forum recently welcomed the MHRA’s recent consultation to decide whether sildenafil tablets should be reclassified as a Pharmacy (P) medicine.

“Viagra is one of the most commonly bought medicines online, and fake products are widely available,” says Sid Dajani. “Even if someone buys a genuine product online, they don’t usually get any professional one-to-one advice. Providing sildenafil over the counter from pharmacies would improve access and advice at point of sale. It would also enable pharmacists to interact further with male customers, bringing up topics of smoking cessation, obesity and heart health.”

 

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