Barriers to men’s participation in healthcare research

Tuesday 27 February 2024

By reviewing data spanning nearly five decades, a team of Mater Researchers led by Associate Professor Kym Rae has identified that many healthcare studies have failed to attract—and retain—male participants.

The review article, published in BioMed Central, found that male participants had different drivers for supporting their engagement and participation in research than women, paving the way for researchers to tailor recruitment strategies to attract men.  

As co-lead of the Queensland Family Cohort (QFC) Study, A/Prof Kym Rae has a keen interest in retaining longitudinal study participants, including both parents.  

“The QFC aims to become a multigenerational Queensland cohort study for the next 30 years, finding health solutions for children and their families,” A/Prof Rae said. 

She said that the review set out to understand the unique barriers and facilitators to male recruitment across healthcare-related research studies. 

“Recruiting male participants to complete healthcare related studies is important to advance clinical knowledge, so it’s important for us to understand why men are less interested in participating, and how to engage them better,” A/Prof Rae said.  

“After screening over 16,000 studies and analysing 24 articles specifically about men published between 1976 and 2023, we found that the disinterest in participating in research wasn’t confined to any single health topic. 

To date, most previous research studies have examined the barriers and facilitators of female participants in longitudinal healthcare-related studies as women are the larger participant group, meaning that the unique barriers and facilitators to male recruitment across longitudinal healthcare-related research studies have not been thoroughly examined.  

A/Prof Rae said that the recruitment and continued involvement of male participants in clinical research provides persistent challenges for researchers, and the lack of enthusiasm that can often be encountered, could be overcome by clear, non-directive communication, and studies that support the participants health interests. 

“Our review recommends a multifactorial approach of recruitment and retention strategies when focusing on improving completion rates of individuals who identify as male in longitudinal healthcare studies. This includes simple strategies such as making study appointments fit around work hours as men are less likely to be available during the day and maintaining contact through a variety of mechanisms.  

These findings encourage researchers to consider male-specific recruitment strategies to ensure successful recruitment and retention of males in their studies. Communication with male participants was particularly effective if using humour, was clear and concise in reminders and newsletters, and if the partner was also included in communications.  

 It is well known that males are less likely to engage in healthcare early in their life, while this systematic review was particularly interested engaging men in research, it highlights approaches that can also be used by clinicians who are trying to engage men in undertaking health checks. By ensuring men are engaged in health care and research, long-term health outcomes will be improved.  

To learn more about A/Prof Rae, click here

To learn more about the Queensland Family Cohort, click here.