Background: The frequently asymptomatic nature and high incidence of severe complications of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) calls for targeted efforts to identify those at greatest risk. Earlier studies have shown inconsistencies regarding STD evaluation by primary care clinicians and physicians. However, the literature regarding the consistency of practice patterns regarding elicitation of sexual history is limited. We examined practice patterns for the elicitation of sexual history among providers across seven sites nationwide.
Methods: As part of a multisite study to encourage health seeking for populations specifically at risk for gonorrhea (GC) and other STDs, semistructured interviews that included questions regarding sexual history elicitation were conducted with 208 service providers in a total of 121 publicly and privately funded clinics, managed care organizations (MCOs), hospital clinics, community- and school-based clinics in Denver, New York, Los Angeles, Birmingham, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Prince Georges County, MD.
Results: Among the providers interviewed, practice patterns for the elicitation of sexual history were inconsistent. Sexual histories were described as routine (i.e., solicited from every client regardless of reason for visit) in 57% of sites. Providers most frequently asked clients their number of sex partners (57%), their contraceptive history (55%), and STD history (34%). Client discomfort among 46% and provider discomfort among 13% was cited as barriers to the elicitation of sexual history. A quarter (26%) of providers agreed that the elicitation of sexual history can be fostered by improved provider communication skills and 16% agreed increasing training and experience for providers is needed.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that interventions with providers to standardize sexual history elicitation can help to reduce barriers to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of STD.