New guide helps primary care providers discuss STDs with patients
Looking to curb the record number of STDs and help primary care physicians discuss these diseases with their patients, the National Coalition for Sexual Health recently published Sexual Health and Your Patients: A Provider’s Guide.
According to Michael Horberg, MD, MAS, FACP, FIDSA, one of the publication’s authors, the guide, unlike other resources, provides a convenient means to access the latest STD research, and, if used as a companion piece to the same coalition’s Take Charge of Your Sexual Health guide, helps providers with consistent educational efforts regarding STDs.
“Many providers are not trained in discussing sexual health with patients or may have their own ‘hang ups’ about sexual health. And most providers are really busy and short on time,” Horberg, a member of the National Coalition for Sexual Health Healthcare Action Committee, told Healio Family Medicine. “As such, sexual health often gets short shrift in medical encounters. Yet so many STDs, phobias, unwanted pregnancies, and risky behaviors go unchecked because the provider didn't take the time to address them with their patients. Our goal is to change all that.”
The new guide provides the latest STD research, ‘essential questions’ primary care physicians can ask patients about sexual health, recommendations on delivering preventive sexual health services, and answers to frequently asked patient questions on screening, testing, STDs, contraceptives, partner issues and sexual performance and function. The guide also provides information on recommended screening tests for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B and C, chlamydia, gonorrhea and cervical cancers.
Horberg acknowledged STDs may not be an easy topic for primary care physicians to bring up with their patients, but the statistics on STD prevalence necessitate the discussions. He offered advice to doctors uncomfortable with the subject matter.
“Get a script in your mind and use it and practice it. We all feel awkward and uncomfortable the first time we do anything. Think back to your first patient encounters in medical school. You were nervous…” Horberg said. “But now it comes so naturally to you — it's likely your second skin. Do that with sexual health questions and conversations and it'll be the same way.”
Recent CDC data suggest STDs are a health and financial burden in the United States. The agency said 2015 was the second year in a row where increases were seen in the three nationally reported STDs — syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. The CDC estimates there are almost 20 million new cases of STDs diagnosed each year in the United States, totaling approximately $16 billion in health care costs, but also acknowledges that many cases go unreported or undiagnosed, suggesting the actual number of infections may be higher. – by Janel Miller
Disclosure: Horberg is a physician with the Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States.