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Bro-ification of health? This “man cave” clinic gets men to go to the doctor

Redesigning the waiting room into a sports-themed den might just lure men into prostate checkups. Can it make a dent in men’s health?

Bro-ification of health? This “man cave” clinic gets men to go to the doctor
[Photo: Tero Vesalainen/iStock; courtesy of Man Cave Health]

Men, on average, don’t go to the doctor. In fact, they’re twice as likely as women to go two years without a checkup, according to the CDC. Forty percent won’t even make an appointment until they’re dealing with a serious medical issue.

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There are many reasons for this ill-advised reluctance. Men fear a bad diagnosis, think it unnecessary, or are just too macho to undergo what they perceive to be embarrassing or invasive tests. Some just hate the clinical experience. It’s estimated that modern man will die nearly five years earlier than women because they are less likely to seek preventive care.

Meanwhile, 1 in 9 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in U.S. males. More than 30,000 deaths occurred from it last year, many of which could have been prevented by early detection.

“Men feel invincible,” laments Dr. Ash Tewari, chair of the urology department at Mount Sinai Healthcare System in New York. Basically, “they take better care of their cars than their own bodies.”

Tewari is spearheading a new program that entices men to see a doctor via surefire catnip: sports. In January, Mount Sinai partnered with the nonprofit organization Man Cave Health to launch a first-of-its-kind sports-themed center that provides medical attention and educational resources on prostate health–along with other creature comforts.

[Photo: courtesy of Man Cave Health]
Housed in the Mount Sinai East Harlem campus, the Man Cave Health waiting room “den” features all the trimmings of a dude paradise. Men lounge on caramel-colored leather couches while watching ESPN on a 70-inch screen TV. Local sports team memorabilia–ranging from signed Jets helmets to framed Islanders jerseys–pepper the wood-paneled walls. A sleek coffee bar offers caffeinated beverages or bottled water.

There’s even a barstool and counter where they can charge their phones, but mostly, well, it’s to make them feel like they’re actually at a sports bar. It’s a tasteful take on masculinity, pushing the sports theme without delving into juvenile clichés.

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Channeling the atmosphere of a sports bar

“You would never know you are in a medical facility on Madison Avenue,” Man Cave Health founder and chairman Thomas Milana Jr. tells Fast Company. “This is something you would have at your home.”

While it might not be every man’s medical fantasy, the facility might at least pique their interest: According to a Gallup survey, three in four men describe themselves as sports fans.

“You can see the faces on these people when they walk in–they don’t want to be there,” says Milana. “Then five minutes after sitting in a chair, having a cup of coffee, and looking around, their demeanor changes.”

Man Cave Health currently seats 12, and averages nearly 125 patients a week–but this alternative medical practice harbors big ambitions beyond Madison Avenue. In the coming year, the organization plans to go nationwide–and maybe even dip into other male-centric interests.

“If it is not a doctor’s office, they will come,” predicts Tewari. “So now the question is: How can a doctor’s office not be a doctor’s office?”

Catering to the boys

In 2016, Milana, then 48 years old, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He turned to Tewari, who has performed more than 6,000 robotic radical prostatectomies. Following Milana’s surgery, the two bonded over their desire to help fellow prostate cancer survivors as well as raise awareness about the issue. They wanted to do something that felt different, that felt fun.

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Milana, a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist, couldn’t help but dissect his experience. He was satisfied with the medical expertise, but wasn’t terribly impressed by the overall feel of the doctor’s office. In comparison, the women’s clinics he visited (with his wife) felt like upscale spas or boutique hotel lobbies. Another issue? He believed men’s clinics had much longer waiting times.

No wonder, he mused, men pushed off their appointments.

[Photo: courtesy of Man Cave Health]
“You’re sitting in a waiting room and you know that 90% of the people around you have prostate cancer like you do,” recalls Milana. “It’s kind of depressing.”

Milana began imagining what an ideal waiting room might look like–a private salon where men could relax, breathe easy, and then perhaps engage in some difficult conversations. And with that, he thought up Man Cave Health, a hidden getaway that could melt away the outside world. Patients would inspect sports artifacts and catch a Yankees game while simultaneously tending to their health.

“Being relaxed in that room, they start conversations about topics that they never usually talk about,” reports Tewari. They’ll engage a stranger in a story about an uncle who survived prostate cancer or discuss an aunt currently battling breast cancer. “Those discussions never used to happen. But sitting there talking about it, something happens.”

In addition to providing prostate cancer screenings and educational materials, Man Cave Health also offers more holistic healing. This includes acupuncture, botanical supplement consultation, meditation coaching, and Chinese Taoist massage therapy, among other alternative treatments. There’s a nutritionist on staff to guide men through better eating habits.

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The pairing of more unorthodox treatments comes by way of Tewari, a big believer in integrative medicine. “Not everything can be cured by the knife,” says Tewari. “I need to involve other modalities.”

In many ways, Man Cave Health resembles other medical care startups attempting to appeal to a new consumer model. Parsley Health, for example, reimagines primary care through the lens of functional medicine. At its plant-filled oasis, doctors are just as likely to prescribe yoga or a gluten-free diet as they are a prescription.

Then there’s Trellis, a calming fertility center beaming in soft pink pastels and accented with modern contemporary rugs, chic midcentury furniture, and sleek hanging lights. (It’s been dubbed the “Equinox of egg freezing.”) Even acupuncture clinics look cool now.

Design increasingly shapes the patient experience. But generally, such details are reserved for the more female-frequented establishments.

“They’re starting to do it with women, and hopefully this is the start for men,” says Milana.

Beyond sports

The Man Cave Health team focused on sports for their first entry in this space, but they’re open to considering anything and everything that might draw men in. As they expand regionally, that might mean a ski lodge aesthetic in colder climates or perhaps a tech-inspired, gadget-filled space for Silicon Valley. The University of California Irvine School of Medicine intends to launch a Man Cave Health that’s more beach inspired, complete with surfboards.

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“Every man’s idea of a man cave is different,” says Milana.

Milana personally funded the first Man Cave Health. (New York sports teams donated all the memorabilia.) He’ll soon fundraise with a plan to put one in every major NFL city, or perhaps more strategic areas like strip malls. They won’t all be in hospital facilities.

Starting in the next few months, patients will be able to schedule appointments via the program’s app, thereby making it a more convenient booking experience. In addition, the Man Cave Health hotline (1-833-HEAL-MEN) will extend to 24 hours. That way a man can access information or emotional support any time of the day.

“When you are diagnosed with cancer, the first thing you do is you think you’re going to die. Then you go to the internet, and there’s nothing good on the internet about any type of cancer,” says Milana. The hotline, he explains, can alleviate that Google-induced anxiety.

So far, patients generally range between 40 to 65 years of age. Of them, 50% are accompanied by a wife. In the coming months, the team will hold fairs and target men through social media and sports radio stations. The founder also hopes to expand the idea beyond prostate health. His ultimate goal is get 5% of the male population that currently doesn’t go to the doctor to go in for a checkup. Once you get them in, he predicts, they’re lifers.

“All we’re trying to do is make the experience of going to the doctor a lot better than what it’s been for, you know, the last 50 years,” says Milana. “If we can provide him with a better experience–and one that actually sees them on time–then they’re more likely to go back. And maybe even tell a friend about it.”

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About the author

Rina Raphael is a writer who covers technology, health, and wellness for Fast Company. Sign up for her newsletter on the wellness economy here: https://welltodo.substack.com/

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