“Please stress the need to examine men…For some reason, most female PT`s shy away from a male’s private parts totally. It would be great if females were taught that it's important to go there…And treat us as equals in this arena.”
This is an excerpt from a recent email we received at Herman & Wallace headquarters, and it highlights a common theme, that of patient access to care. While there are many factors driving patient access to pelvic health, availability of therapists trained in various conditions is certainly one major issue. By the time any patient is referred to pelvic rehabilitation, they have already overcome the challenge of many providers not being aware that there is help for pelvic health issues, and insurance or payment hurdles that can also cause a patient to delay or avoid recommended treatment. Many physical therapy programs have done an outstanding job in developing and marketing women’s health programs, with men’s health programs addressing post-prostatectomy care or male pelvic pain coming along almost as an afterthought.
So what is really limiting the care of men who wish to overcome urinary, pain, or sexual dysfunction? For many locations around the country, there simply is not enough awareness of the scope of pelvic rehab, the nearest pelvic rehab provider may be far away geographically (or have a months-long waiting list), or the clinic may limit pelvic healthcare to women. If the clinic chooses to only provide care to women, what are we being discriminating about? The word “discriminate” has at least two rather distinct definitions, one that is more negative, and meaning that we are acting in an unjust or prejudicial manner, and another that simply means we are recognizing a difference between patient groups. If we choose to discriminate against treating men in a pelvic health setting, it’s easy to understand that if a therapist has never been instructed in how to examine a male patient, it may be prudent to avoid such evaluation until training is completed. We can find examples of this situation in other aspects of clinical care: if I have never taken proper training in evaluation of the vestibular system, for example (a condition that historically has not always been comprehensively instructed in school), then it’s in my best interest (and that of the patient) to only provide such care once I have taken appropriate training.
If our care of male pelvic health conditions is due to lack of specific training, what is our professional responsibility for acquiring training in conditions such as post-prostatectomy urinary incontinence, male genital pain, or erectile dysfunction? If we are to serve the pelvic health populations well, our training should progress to include lifespan issues for all ages and all genders. If we actively choose to avoid treating a population or condition, is that fair to the community seeking care? The ethics of choosing not to treat patients of a particular gender or condition are interesting to consider, but are not the scope of this post. On the other hand, the business side of being able to market to and welcome male patients in our clinics is very positive, and of course, all of our patients tend to be grateful for what we offer.
If you are interested in learning more about male pelvic healthcare, the Institute has several courses that can help you do so. These courses include an introduction to men at the Pelvic Floor Level 2A course, the Male Pelvic Floor: Function, Dysfunction and Treatment course (3 days dedicated to evaluation and treatment of urinary, sexual, and pain dysfunction), the Post-Prostatectomy course, as well as several manual therapy courses such as our myofascial courses. It is understandable that pelvic health for men may be less familiar territory for many of us based on our graduate training and experiences. If fear or discomfort is holding us back, at least attending a training course can help provide strategies and tools for gaining more comfort in treating men. We are at an exciting time in the pelvic health field when treating men is gaining more ground. If you are not already, join this exciting movement by signing up for one of the many classes available to you!