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Men’s health month: smartphones make monitoring health easy

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Jennifer Dunphy, RN, BSN, OCN, CBCN, Senior Clinical Strategist, Get Real Health

June is National Men’s Health month and an opportunity to shed light on the preventable diseases that plague men and boys as well as provide information regarding the early detection of these conditions.

Many men gauge overall well-being on their contributions in the workforce and how effectively they are providing for those who depend on them, yet they often overlook the importance of providing for their own health. Things like regular medical check-ups and health monitoring take a back seat.

Because men, unlike women, do not have recommended annual tests  (i.e. pap smears, breast exams) until they are of a certain age, they are not developing consistent health habits when they are younger. As a result, they are more likely to forego an annual visit to their doctor. Unfortunately, many males wait until a health situation is dire before they schedule an in-office visit – and by that time, it may be too late.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, women are 100 percent more likely than men to have visited a doctor in the last year for annual examinations and preventive services. This reluctance among men to seek routine medical care seems to cross all socio-economic and geographic barriers in the United States. However, many of the top ailments that affect men – some leading to death – can be mitigated or prevented altogether with consistent tracking, which can easily occur outside facility walls.

An excellent example is staying on top of the symptoms of heart disease. Heart disease is the number one cause of death among men. Yet, by obtaining regular blood pressure readings and keeping track of exercise sessions to develop routines, individuals can detect the precursors to heart disease sooner.

And doing so can be as simple as pulling out their smartphone.

It is estimated that two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone. Further, approximately 6 in 10 smartphone owners have used their device to research a health condition. It is safe to assume that some of those users were men, although we can’t determine the exact numbers.

This is good news, as new technology allows men to download mobile apps where they can easily manage, track and view their health information anytime, anywhere. Personal Health Records (PHR) or patient portals are more mobile-friendly than ever. This on-the-go availability meets them where they are in their hectic schedules and helps them address a variety of health issues.

Such issues include depression, which is notable because suicide is the 5th leading cause of death among men, young and old. The pressure of schedules and responsibilities can trigger signs of depression among males. Because depression and its symptoms are considered more taboo for men than women, it often goes undisclosed and undiagnosed until it is too late.

Apps like What’s My M3 can screen for depression symptoms through a short survey. While the app does not offer a diagnosis, recommendations based on the answers are offered – recommendations that could be life-saving if acted upon appropriately. Just the simple act of answering the questions forces individuals to slow down and analyze their mood and feelings, which is a benefit in and of itself.

A myriad of other apps for iPhone and Android help manage mood, sleep cycles and offer daily meditations and explanations for common mental health terminology.

Little changes can make a big difference when it comes to utilizing a smartphone to manage one’s health. For instance, men who wear Fitbits can download the Fitbit app which will give them access to sleep patterns, calories burned, heart rate as well as steps taken. These seemingly benign add-ons to their exercise tracking can be very telling when looking at a comprehensive health profile.

Sleep-cycle data can assist in detecting depression, and variances in heart rate can be an alert for something more serious as well. All these metrics can be gleaned from devices that men are already using. As the medical profession is undergoing a shift to incorporate patient-generated health data, including information from trackers and wearables, individuals have the opportunity to participate in their healthcare without inconvenience.

Even without utilizing an app, smartphones can serve as a virtual “string around your finger” to remind users to set an appointment, or keep that appointment once it is scheduled. The calendar function and accompanying alerts make check-ups and lab tests a priority.

Yet, with thousands of medical apps available, many of which are free, technology is systematically eliminating the age-old excuses for not prioritizing self-care. 

The aim this June is to make men aware of how easy it is to move healthcare into the forefront, no matter how busy they are. Encouraging small steps, including subscribing to e-newsletters, using apps and incorporating tools that are already a part of daily life, will eventually lead to big changes and better health outcomes and life expectancy for men overall.

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