Aussie men don't like going to the doctor -- but staying away is making them ill.
Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals men are much less likely to visit a doctor than women -- 43.1 percent compared with 56.9 percent -- but even more frightening is that Australian men aged 25-65 are dying five years earlier than their female counterparts, and often from preventable conditions.
Some initiatives have begun to make inroads into this issue by providing health solutions that make it less stressful for men to access the services they need.
High cholesterol is a huge trigger for heart disease and strokes, two of the leading causes of death among Australian males.
Major chemist chain Chemmart now offers in-store cholesterol checks so men can simply drop in and have their levels checked within minutes -- and without an anxiety-ridden trip to the doctor.
Website www.mantherapy.org.au uses quirky videos of a tradie called Dave and a fictitious Dr Ironwood to encurage men who may be suffering anxiety or depression to "grab the bull by the balls and bloody well get on with it" and access services or simply start talking about their issues to someone close to them. The site is a Beyond Blue initiative that offers an online men's health forum, links to physical services and a "mind quiz" for men to take.
Aussie entrepreneur Alex Drew says a big part of the problem around men's health is that Aussie blokes avoid going to their GP -- but he is hoping to change all that by encouraging men to meet their doctor at the pub.
Well, we don't mean a real pub with beer-soaked coasters and dartboards, but the premise behind Drew's emerging social enterprise Mr GP is to create a bar-like atmosphere where blokes feel more comfortable to have a chat.
"Men are expected to be proactive and go to these kinds of clinic environments but they are sterile and cold and the reception staff aren't interested, there are kids kicking and screaming and it's not conducive to actually want to open up and discuss something with the doctor who is potentially is running an hour late and seems disinterested," he told The Huffington Post Australia.
"Part of the analysis behind Mr GP was looking at where men talk to each other the best, and after discussing that with a lot of people and conducting some research it was a case of the golf course, the bar and driving -- these sort of side-to-side or at least not face-to-face environments."
Drew's startup idea, for which he hopes to find investors in order to open the practice later this year, involves simple things to make guys feel more at home.
The Mr GP clinic will feature leather couches and sport on TV in the reception area ("stuff that blokes like") and the doctors will chat to their patients side by side in a semi-private bar-like area to encourage conversation about their health rather than an interrogation.
"At the end of the day it needs to be an environment that men associate with being relaxed," he said.
The surgery will be staffed by male GPs and psychologists and appointment times will be double what they are usually in standard GP clinics -- 30 minutes for an initial consultation and 20 minutes for a follow-up.
After the consultation they will even be offered a drink.
Drew, a trained Melbourne-based physiotherapist who already runs his own small business, was inspired to create Mr GP after the sudden death of his father from a heart attack.
"He would have fit into the typical Australian male mould, in that there's a stigma behind males and the fact that they need to always be fine, they are always OK and it's usually a last resort to go to the doctor," he said.
"Leading up to what happened with him he was really just seeing a doctor for a symptom where the doctor was giving him a prescription. So he had high blood pressure - here's a drug to fix it. He came back a month later with sleeping issues -- here's a drug to fix that.
"What probably was the underlying cause was that I believe he was stressed about retiring and not working and the financial stuff around that and I think that actually none of those symptoms were medical symptoms, they were all stress-related symptoms. So if he had potentially talked to someone and discussed that and said 'I'm am worried about this' and they had said 'that's absolutely normal and fine to be like that' then I don't think it would have happened."
Drew said after months of soul searching to understand the tragic loss of his dad, he came to the conclusion that there was an endemic problem, and he had to try to fix it.
"From spending a long time analysing it I basically tried to assess what the issues were that stopped him from actually going to the doctor," he said. "Rather than just saying Australian men are stubborn, that's just what they are and we can't fix that -- I don't believe that. That's I guess where the basic concept for Mr GP came up."
Two Feet on the ground
Drew is participating in the groundbreaking Two Feet program for social enterprises being run by The Difference Incubator, an organisation which exists to help social enterprises develop, grow and become attractive to investors.
He hopes to solidify Mr GP enough to attract investors and launch, but also learn new skills.
"It's a great environment and I think there's a huge amount to learn through the program," he said. "For me it's about consolidating the value proposition of what I am providing people and that's where they come back and say 'OK Alex, you're actually providing a lot more than just a service, you are potentially providing support to them, you're helping their quality of life, their peace of mind -- that sort of stuff.
"So understanding that and the marketing will be directed towards that. But also for me to work out strategies to test the market in this sort of field to then find ways that I can potentially test the model and then get ready for pitching."