Tips for Talking to Patients About STDs


Let’s face it – sex is an awkward thing to talk about with just anyone. Even though you’re the doctor and they’re the patient, there’s still this uncomfortableness when it comes to initiating a conversation about sex. Should you wait for them to mention it or should you bring it up first? How should you ask them questions about their sexual health without being too pushy? What’s the appropriate level of humor to use during this conversation? Recently doctors are being called out on their bashful behavior. Kaiser Health News recently reported that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, and this is in part, due to the fact that many primary care doctors aren’t talking to their patients about sex. Although sexual health may not be your specialty, it can have a huge impact on someone’s health. So, let’s set aside our reservations and have “the talk.” Here are some quick facts and tips for talking to patients about STDs.


Quick Facts About STDs

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are at an all-time high. From 2016 to 2017, nationwide rates of chlamydia rose by 7 percent, gonorrhea by 19 percent, and syphilis by 11 percent.
  • The federal government established annual screening guidelines for people who are sexually active. However, statistics show that in 2015 providers only screened abut half of sexually active women ages 16 to 24 with private health plans or Medicaid.
  • In 2017, Quest surveyed women ages 15-24. It found that only 4 percent of sexually active women felt that they were at risk for chlamydia. Only 2 percent said they were at risk for gonorrhea. The study also found that only 39 percent of the women said they used a condom in their last sexual encounter.
  • Another study found that one-quarter of primary care physicians said they were uncomfortable bringing up the risk of STDs with female patients. Not surprisingly, only half of the young women surveyed by Quest said their clinician had asked them about STD testing.

Three Tips for Talking to Patients About STDs

talking to patients about STDs

  1. Know what the annual screening guidelines are

Before you start talking to patients about STDs, it’s important that you know what the annual screening guidelines are. The CDC outlines who to test, for what, and when. It’s helpful to know what’s required from you on your end before you ask your patients if they are sexually active. As a locum tenens provider, keep in mind that testing protocols may differ by state. Be sure to find out what other providers at your current location are doing.

  1. Bring it up first… don’t wait for them to do it

You might feel like you’re prying into your patient’s personal business. However, keep in mind that they may want you to. Talking about sex with someone other than your partner or close friends can be weird. However, patients do want to be safe and to talk about it. They may just be too shy or embarrassed to bring it up. According to the CDC, studies show that patients want to be asked about sex. The important thing is that you create an open and comfortable environment for them to talk about it.

  1. Don’t dismiss the idea of testing just because there are no symptoms

Many times, the idea of testing someone who has no symptoms seems strange. However, many STDs can be present without symptoms. This is why the CDC outlined in its guidelines what specific STDs different categories of people are more at risk for. If you stick to the guidelines, understand your patient’s sexual activity, and test them accordingly, you can potentially catch something early.

Do you have any additional tips for talking to patients about STDs? Share with us in the comments below!

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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