Talking about your sexual health with a stranger is not something most of us enjoy doing. For college students barely past the cusp of adulthood, the prospect can be downright terrifying. However, given the potential severity of letting some sexual conditions go undiagnosed or untreated, it’s imperative that healthcare providers find a way to reduce the stigma and make patients feel more comfortable opening up.
It’s one thing to be willing to listen to patients divulge their intimate troubles, but many doctors forget that those topics are tough – or impossible – for patients to broach when they’re feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Instead of waiting for patients to take the lead, physicians need to ask questions and actively play detective if they suspect a patient might need help with sexual health.
Patients react favorably to clinical diagrams, illustrations, and models places around exam rooms. For shy young adults, it’s often easier to point to the oozing bump in an illustration of the pelvic area than it is to describe symptoms of an active sexual infection. Try to keep imagery informative and descriptive, to help patients understand what they’re dealing with and how they may be treated, but stay away from overly complex or scary terminology that could promote anxiety instead of comfort.
If a patient has described symptoms of an STI, requested birth control, or asked a sensitive question about their sexual health, take a moment before responding. The last thing that patient needs is to feel judged or shamed in that moment. Calm, measured responses that focus on positive outcomes and readily available treatments put less experienced patients at ease during stressful situations.
This is critical to providing your patients with an environment where they feel comfortable enough to share all their information with you. Patients need to feel complete trust to allow you as the provider to get all the details to provide a full diagnosis. We recommend that a provider start by respecting pronouns and by listening, and never judging, a patient on their sexual choices or preferences. Younger patients, in particular college students, need to have their medical providers “meet them where they are on their patient journey” especially as many younger patients are still finding out and exploring who they are.
If university students have an overall positive experience from discussing their sexual health in a clinical setting, they will be more likely to take active steps to maintain their sexual health in their private lives and return if further treatment is needed in the future.
One recent revelation, that has allowed more young people to seek help for issues regarding their sexual health has been the recent adoption of remote diagnostic and tele-medicine offerings. Tele-medicine has allowed patients the ability so that they can talk to a doctor directly and not need to have the stigma of going into a clinic and being seen there. This has been further enhanced by companies like Ash, who have developed sophisticated remote diagnostic platforms that allow for the patient not only to see the doctor but to have their testing done at home and handled by a nationwide lab network of CLIA-certified labs using a seamless API integration.
Ash is available for clinics of all sizes, and we pride ourselves on being able to launch our full diagnostic platform in just a matter of weeks, as a full white label offering. If this is something you and your clinic would be interested in, we are happy to schedule a call at your convenience.