International best practice tells us that one of the key ways to improve men's access to healthcare is by developing male-friendly services. This was acknowledged in Australia’s first National Male Health Policy, which called on all health professionals to “make their practices more male-friendly.”
But what is a male-friendly service?
Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all-approach that will work for all men and boys. There are differences between groups of men, as well as differences within individual men themselves that need to be taken into account.
The Australian Men’s Health Forum has released a 10-step guide to developing male-friendly health services. Australia's men's health sector is a world leader in developing innovative, male-friendly approaches to engaging men in health services. This report honours that tradition and identifies some of the key characteristics that are common to health initiatives that work for men, both in Australia and overseas.
There are many different ways to develop male-friendly services. The 10-step-guide provides anyone who is committed to improving the lives and health of men and boys with a set of tried and tested principles that can be applied universally to a general population of men as well as being tailored to the diverse needs and preferences of different populations across Australia.
The guide is split into three key areas: Promotion, Structure and Culture
Promotion identifies male-friendly language as a key characteristic of reaching out to men. “If you want men to listen, speak to them in a language they can hear by giving your service a male-friendly name.” Also under this section, promotion highlights the importance of “meeting men where they are” and offering out-of-hours services. Marketing materials should also target men directly.
Cultural factors include how men are viewed generally, the importance of social connection the power of getting men involved in building support networks. “If you want men to get help, allow them to give help in the process.”
Structural underpins all activity, from employing male staff and volunteers, building health programs around men’s interests and harnessing men’s strengths. “Men are expected to be strong and independent. Help men help themselves with male-friendly information and guidance, simple tips for self-care and self-management and opportunities to engage online.”
The document expands on each point using case studies from Australia’s rich men’s health sector. For example, Men’s Health Downunder is highlighted under Promotion - how to target men directly. The Canberra-based pharmacy network has tailored its clinic to men: they do not stock anything that isn’t health-related, and the space is set up to ensure men are comfortable. The Men’s Health Downunder website is a secure extension of the clinic service, and enables patients to access specific men’s health information relevant to them, wherever they live and whenever they like.
“The lesson is simple, if you want more men to access a service, be sure to target it directly at men with the language you use in your promotional materials,” said the guide.
Relating to men in a male-friendly environment: Men's Health Downunder tailors its pharmacy service targets men directly.
Including men in all their diversity
The 10-step guide also takes into account developing male-friendly services that are responsive to the specific needs of men and boys who don’t conform to masculine norms, or those with diverse identities, shaped by factors such as age, race, disability and sexuality.
“Many of the principles in this guide can be applied to specific populations of men. The LGBTI Health Alliance, for example, created the Wingmen Project “for gay guys, by gay guys”, which adapts the “by men, for men” principle. Wingmen is a resource that supports gay men to feel confident about helping each other in tough times.”
The Melbourne-based Sons of the West health and wellbeing program, developed by the Western Bulldogs Football Club, has worked in partnership with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) community groups.
Many services delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men’s health programs build on the Indigenous tradition of doing ‘men’s business, but the report says “we need to consider how we can make all services ‘male friendly’ for men and boys of all backgrounds and suggests ways to make this happen.
A 30-point checklist
There is a checklist of 30 different actions for service providers, who want to make their services more male-friendly. For example, under Promotion:
- Promote your services in places where most of the audience is male.
- Run short men-only group programs.
- Use technology to provide opportunities for men to engage online.
Recommendations for people in power
The 10-step guide outlines 10 recommendations for policymakers and funders to help achieve the government’s goal of ensuring that every man and boy in Australia is supported to live a long, fulfilling and healthy life.
The recommendations include targeting funding towards those organisations who have a long-term commitment to improving the lives and health of men and boys. All male health initiatives should take a male-friendly approach and the workforce should be skilled to deliver holistic male-centred services across the medical, nursing and allied health community.