argues that we need to try to exploit men's interest in the internet to overcome their disinterest in their own health …
When it comes to the potential benefits of the internet in health care, we’re still only paddling around the shallow end.
As well as editing the EMHF site, I am editor of malehealth.co.uk, a fast, free source of independent health information for males of all ages. It was relaunched during Men's Health Week last year and averages some 30,000 user-sessions a month. What is incredible is not so much the number of hits but the diversity of their sources. The site is written in English and run by the UK voluntary organisation the Men’s Health Forum yet, in one particular randomly-chosen month, it attracted 2,846 visits from Germany, 742 from the Netherlands, 188 from France and 83 from Italy. There were even 24 from China, six from Kuwait and one from Greenland. In total, the site attracted visitors from 68 countries.
Perhaps not all of these users were after health information but it does suggest an enormous depth of untapped demand. A site giving the sort of information available on malehealth in a variety of languages and tailored for a diversity of cultures would be a formidable global sponsorship opportunity.
However, while tapping into the male interest in the internet, such a site would have to overcome the male disinterest in his own health. I’ve recently upgraded my computer operating system and, to answer the many questions this raised, I had to trawl though umpteen sites full of technical information, Frequently Asked Questions, knowledge bases and all the rest of it before I could do anything so low-tech as send someone an email. Judging by the number of posts at the user-forums, however, my fellow techies didn’t seem to mind.
Contrast this with our experience at malehealth. As a charity, we are no longer able to offer the personalised question and answer service ‘Ask the Doc’ which was available when the site was run commercially. Despite this, rare is the day when at least one question is not posted. We try to respond to the more desperate writers but we simply don’t have the resources to answer them all. A real shame. Well, yes and no. While, of course, most questions would benefit from a customised response, the writers could often find the key information themselves were they minded to look.
Unlike most other health sites on the internet which are usually product marketing vehicles, malehealth actually strives to be as comprehensive as possible. The site contains hundreds of pages of specially commissioned, well-written health information and frequently the answers to our users' queries can be found therein. All that is required is a little time and/or the use of the search engine.
It is curious that while we males will happilly trawl through all manner of waffle about new Mac operating system (something which is life threatening only to the old operating system), we cannot even be bothered to use something as rudimentary as a site search engine when it comes to own health. It’s a design challenge we will have to rise to if the full health potential of the internet for men is to be exploited.
Jim Pollard is a journalist and writer. He is editor of both the European Men's Health Forum website and the consumer health website malehealth.co.uk run by the UK Men's Health Forum.
Men's Health Forum