By Viji Sundaram
New America Media
African American men avoid going to the doctor not because they don’t want to seek medical attention, but because they find the visits stressful and often unhelpful, a recent University of Michigan study shows.
“We tend to think they don’t want to go, when in fact it’s because they don’t have positive experiences,” said Dr. Derek Griffith, assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, the lead investigator of the study.
Researchers arrived at that conclusion after questioning 105, middle-aged African American men from Detroit, Flint and Ypsilanti—three communities in Michigan with large black populations. The majority of the men said they disliked the tone physicians often used with them. They said they felt they were getting orders from their physicians, instead of being talked to as equals.
The men said they knew they needed to lose weight, change their eating habits and be more physically active before visiting the doctor. They were hoping that their doctors would help them figure out how to make those behavioral changes without sacrificing time with their spouses and children.
“Many men want to adopt healthier lifestyles, but face significant challenges beyond health insurance and the cost of care,” Griffith noted, adding: “They are concerned about their health and are more knowledgeable about the changes they need to make than they are given credit for.”
African American men die an average of seven years earlier than men of other ethnic groups, and are more likely to suffer from undiagnosed chronic illnesses, according to Griffith.
Griffith, who is also the director of the school’s Center on Men’s Health Disparities, said the findings highlight the need for physicians to offer practical information, resources and support to help men stick withtheir medical regimes and make lifestyle changes within the context of their other responsibilities to family and community.
Researchers are hoping that their findings will start a discussion among physicians on how they communicate with patients and why patients may not comply with their doctors’ orders.
Showing more understanding of their patients’ needs would be one way of encouraging them to visit their doctors and to follow those doctors’ recommendations.