Australian app takes aim at male medical machismo

MELBOURNE Mon Feb 28, 2011 5:29am EST

Screenshot of the iPhone app ''myHealthMate'', launched by The Alfred hospital, Melbourne. Picture obtained on 28 February, 2011. REUTERS/HANDOUT

Screenshot of the iPhone app ''myHealthMate'', launched by The Alfred hospital, Melbourne. Picture obtained on 28 February, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/HANDOUT

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The strong, silent and possibly suffering Australian male is the target of an iPhone application that hopes to make men less shy of talking with doctors -- before medical issues become medical emergencies.

Melbourne's The Alfred hospital has launched the "myHealthMate," which features a user-friendly symptom checker that allows men to match 20 areas of their body to over 50 common symptoms and receive medical advice from experts.

"The Australian male's machismo prevents him from presenting early to the local doctor, or what you would call in the States your primary care physician," said Marco Bonollo, head of Disease Management Unit at The Alfred.

"So whereas our wives, girlfriends and partners have forged very strong relationships with general practitioners... , the Australian male is a notoriously late presenter, often ignoring cardinal symptoms such as chest pain."

The result is that men are disproportionately represented among patients at the hospital, making up to 60 percent of admissions a year.

The free app features an interactive representation of the male body with red dots at various key areas, such as the chest or the elbow.

Users can click on each area to get a variety of advice about symptoms, for anything from breathlessness to tennis elbow, including when they should consult with a doctor or head in for emergency treatment.

If diagnosed with a chronic condition, the app -- which also has a special feature on men's cancer -- provides links to a variety of websites with information.

Bonollo stressed that the app was not meant to substitute for seeing a doctor.

"What we are doing is encouraging people to seek timely medical care and an opinion, presenting to emergency departments for emergency issues, but also encouraging them to use the symptom checker to develop relationships with their local doctors," he said.

But are Australian men any more stoic than their counterparts elsewhere?

Bonollo said that rising numbers of obese and overweight people pointed to a general lack of health awareness.

"So obviously men are not heeding advice about lifestyle change, weight loss, avoidance of Type 2 diabetes, salt restriction -- all these lifestyle changes that we hope are going to avoid the tsunamis of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea," he said.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato)

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