Marketers on the lookout for male patients shouldn't expect to find them in the their hospital or doctor's office. A third of the nation's males nearly 31 million haven't been in for an exam or health check in the past year. Nine million, or one in every 10, have gone five years without a visit to the doctor, according to a recent survey conducted by Cable News Network (see sidebar for more info). Industry officials are worried about such findings because men's general health issues have largely been ignored. "We need to work hard to bring focus to men's health. In particular we need to spread the word on effective detection and treatments for them," said Dr. Barbara Whylie, director of the Cancer Institute of Toronto. "What we have found, however, is that it is difficult to communicate with them." Other healthcare organizations also are struggling to get a handle on how to communicate with men. For example, marketers at the Rose Medical Center in Denver conducted several surveys with their male patients and found that many men harbor myths about the health topics that affect them most. At a seminar sponsored by Rose Medical late last year, more than 500 male guests completed a survey to see what they knew or didn't know about health. Among the most prominent myths: men believed that the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are easily curable. Many rated AIDS as the top STD, yet herpes and genital warts affect far more Americans. Only 25 percent of the men knew that treatment can only lessen the symptoms, not cure the disease. "The men surveyed also believed they'd experience pain if they had testicular cancer, but in fact, this type of cancer is usually painless," said Rita Beam, program manager at Rose Medical Center. "They made a lot of assumptions without really knowing the reality." To counter the negative feelings and myths men have toward healthcare, hospital marketers at Rose Medical Center have become proactive. They now offer a Men's Health Resource program that provides men with physician refferals, health information, and chat groups. Its also has its own phone number (303/320-ROSE). There's also a fax line where men can request a copy of information on a variety of topics, such as how to choose a doctor, how to lower cancer risk, and how to lower cholesterol. Marketers said the response has been good, the line receives about 20-30 calls per week. "Men need to know that waiting until a health problem becomes serious is like waiting until your car rusts to have it waxed," said Beam. Physicians at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City are trying a different approach by working with the media to bring in male patients. For example, two doctors have written a prostate cancer guide in October for men and have distributed it to major men's magazines including Men's Health Magazine, GQ and Esquire. Some of the magazines have run the information in their health information sections. While PSA's and advertisements help to inform the men about prostate cancer and other preventive care, marketers say using the growing network of support organizations also can help men and their families become educated with diseases. "Men don't talk easily to each other about such things as their health and sexuality," said Len Gross, a prostate cancer survivor and chair of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Prostate Cancer Support and Awareness Group. "But groups like ours facilitate this type of dialogue and our members benefit from the mutual understanding and support. Support groups also play a lead role in educating men about prostate cancer and in separating the myth from the reality." Gross said hospitals that support such iniatives usually see improvements in the number of referrals and increases in preventive care. (Cancer Institute of Toronto, 800/897-9000, Rose Medical Center 303/320-ROSE; Beth Israel, 212/420-2000)

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