I got a call from my doctor’s office the other day. It might have seemed pleasant enough to the untrained ear, but it was a threat. I had ordered a refill for a prescription and the assistant from his office explained that unless I came in to be seen by the end of the month, the prescription would not be refilled again.

I hear from a doctor on an almost daily basis that I am fat, that I don’t get enough exercise, and that I should stop throwing my underwear on the floor. That is what I get for marrying a doctor.

But I’ve been quite content maintaining an email relationship with my primary care physician and getting the occasional blood test. I’m not good about getting seen unless there is an extraordinary issue to drive me to seek care. Turns out I’m not the only one. Apparently, it’s a guy thing.

I made the appointment, but it was with some amusement that on the same day I had an invitation to speak to Eddie Patton about why men don’t like going to the doctor. Patton is a neurologist with the Mischer Neuroscience Associates in Houston and a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Texas. He wanted to talk about the importance of preventive care and the difference detecting certain rare neurological conditions early can make.

Patton says he usually hear the excuse that men are too busy to get to the doctor (I am). He also says men have been taught to “play through the pain” (I do).

“A lot of times men tend to go to the physician when it’s an extreme or after something has become so severe. It’s a matter of just realizing the importance of preventative maintenance and a stigma that’s been going on for years that we only go to the doctor when there’s something wrong,” he said. “We know now from a number of studies and research that’s been done that we can really cut the cost of healthcare if we practice more preventative health and part of that is seeing your doctor on a regular basis.”

Patton specializes in neuromuscular diseases. One disease he deals with is myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease. In myasthenia gravis, the patient’s own immune system attacks the junction between the nerves and the muscles. It can cause weakness including difficulties in breathing and swallowing.

Fifty years ago, it was a deadly diagnosis with an 80 percent mortality rate, but therapies that are available today are effective at treating the condition. Patton estimates the mortality rate today is between 2 to 5 percent, thanks in part to a range of treatment options including Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ Soliris, which in a highly targeted way quiets the part of the immune system known as the complement system.

“We’ve been able to get people into remission, which means that they have minimal symptoms and minimal treatment. It may take layered effects using multiple medications and different combinations,” said Patton, who is a member of Alexion’s speaker bureau. “It’s really an interesting thing treating these patients because it’s about finding which combinations work, which combinations of medications are most effective, but yes, as opposed to years ago when the goal was to just, you know, to survive. Now it’s about getting them into remission.”

Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder (NMOSD) is another rare, autoimmune neuromuscular condition. In the case of NMOSD, the immune system attacks the junction of the optic nerve and muscles and can cause eye pain and blindness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently expanded the indications for Soliris to include NMOSD.

Because outcomes can depend on capturing a disease early in its development, Patton said doctors need to take the message to where men are, such as the barber shop or at community health fairs that are geared to men. Patton even referenced certain clinics that are trying to be more welcoming to men by creating “men caves” with sports themes that invite men to come in and get care.

Patton may be on to something. I can see a reimagining of the doctor’s office to make it more appealing to men. I just wonder whether when my wife asks why I keep going to the doctor she’ll believe me if I tell her I only go for there for the chicken wings.

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