Review date: 14 August 2020
Citation: Men’s preconception health care in Australian general practice: GPs’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. K. Hogg, T. Rizio, R. Manocha, R.I. McLachlan & K Hammarberg. 2019. Australian Journal of Primary Health
It’s easy for women to access health advice if they’re thinking about getting pregnant. It’s fairly common knowledge that getting pregnant and having a healthy baby is easier for women if they themselves are healthy, and there is lots of good quality information offered by many sources to help women prepare for pregnancy. Women are aware of the ticking of their biological clocks.
There’s less of an appreciation by men that their own age and health are important for their fertility and for pregnancy success. It’s even less well known that a man’s health and lifestyle before he starts trying to have children can influence the life-long health of his children.
There’s a need to increase men’s knowledge about how their age, health and behaviour affect their chances of becoming fathers, and the health of their children.
General practitioners have an important role in providing healthcare education but they require knowledge and resources to do this.
Healthy Male researchers surveyed 304 Australian GPs to understand what they know about the effects of men’s age, health and lifestyle on their reproduction and the health of their children. The researchers also asked GPs about things that prevent them from helping men to understand and manage their fertility, and what might help them to meet this need.
One of the challenges with these sorts of surveys is getting responses from a large enough number of people to make sure that the answers are representative of the whole group. In this study, almost 75% of the GPs who completed the survey were female, whereas the overall GP workforce is 55% male. The researchers didn’t see any statistical difference between male and female GPs in their knowledge about men’s fertility, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that male and female GPs might approach these types of discussions differently.
GPs recognise that they need to know more about the effects of men’s age, health and lifestyle on fertility and the health of the men’s children. Only around 12% felt confident with their level of knowledge. Indeed, only around half of GPs knew about some of the links between men’s age and health, and effects on fertility and children’s health.
Another barrier to providing this important information is some GPs’ reluctance to raise the issue with men unless they’re consulted about reproduction and fertility issues. Two-thirds of GPs acknowledge it is their role to initiate these discussions but fewer than 10% do this ‘often’ or ‘always’ and only 5% raise the issue of fertility routinely.
More than 90% of GPs think more information for themselves about how men’s age, health and lifestyle affect fertility would increase their confidence when discussing the topic with their male patients. A majority think that resources to help them initiate these conversations would be useful.
Most GPs think that factsheets and reputable online resources for patients would help them communicate with men about their age, health and lifestyle in the context of having a family.
At Healthy Male, we’re working to provide these resources so that we can help to improve fertility, pregnancy success and the health of future generations.