Oncology nurses care for patients with all levels of health literacy. Some patients are content to just do what they are told. Some patients want to know everything about their disease and seek full participation in their health care decisions. The current health care climate clearly prefers, and often rewards, the latter group. Health Dialog, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rite Aid Corporation, offers products designed to help people participate in their own health care decisions, develop more effective relationships with their health care team, and live longer, healthier, happier lives.

Traditionally, men are less likely to become involved in their health care and health care decision making than are women. This can manifest into a challenging situation for those who care for patients with prostate cancer. Oncology Nurse Advisor (ONA) talked to Peter Goldbach, MD, chief medical officer at Health Dialog, about encouraging men to be more informed participants in their health care decisions.

ONA: Are men more involved health care consumers compared with previous generations?

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GOLDBACH: Men, as well as women, are more involved health care consumers today and for a number of reasons. People are exposed to information from many different directions such as in the media, direct-to-consumer advertising, and the Internet. Due to advances in health care, patients have to make more decisions about tests, procedures, and treatment; however, too often patients may not know that they have choices.

Gender-specific barriers and communication styles still present challenges when interacting within the health care system. Everybody has barriers, including clinicians. Nurses need to be aware of this and should tailor discussions to the patient. Most clinicians know about diseases, their diagnosis, and treatment options; however, they may not understand how to communicate with patients. Decision-making aids can help clinicians work more effectively with their patients.

ONA: What patient-communication challenges are unique to male patients?

GOLDBACH: All patients can experience communication challenges when interacting with their physicians, particularly when a medical decision needs to be made. Although health care providers do a great job of diagnosing diseases and offering treatment solutions to patients, they are not always well versed in taking patient preferences into account. Shared decision making (SDM) is a process that helps patients be better prepared to work with their care givers and arrive at treatment choices that better reflect their preferences and needs. SDM involves ensuring that patients are well educated about their condition and treatment options, have thought about what matters most to them in terms of treatment outcomes, and ensures that their preferences become part of the final treatment plan.

Men’s general communication styles persist when discussing their health care. For example, men are less likely to be involved in discussions about their health with other men, or even with their family (eg, their spouses), whereas women are likely to share information with others. In addition, women build relationships with health care providers through interactions related to reproductive health, family care, and care of elderly family members, whereas men tend to have fewer interactions with health care providers, especially in their early adulthood years. Men, for whatever reason, tend to wait longer than women before seeking attention for a health care issue.