Background: Primary care providers are well placed to control the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STI); however, care is likely to be influenced by their attitudes and beliefs. The present study investigates the relationship between general practitioner’s (GP) self-reported level of comfort in dealing with patients with STI and the care they deliver.
Methods: A postal survey was conducted using a stratified random sample of 15% of GPs practising in New South Wales, Australia, to assess practitioners’ management of STI. A total of 409 GPs participated in the study yielding a response rate of 45.4%.
Results: Although over two-thirds (69–72%) of GPs were comfortable in managing STI in heterosexual or young patients, fewer than half (40–46%) felt comfortable caring for patients who were sex workers, indigenous, people who inject drugs, gay or lesbian. Practitioners who were comfortable were more likely to offer sexual risk assessment, safe-sex counselling, and were less likely to report limited ability to influence patients’ risk behaviours. Practitioner discomfort was positively associated with reporting constraints in sexual history-taking and the need for training in sexual health.
Conclusions: Practitioners’ care and support for patients with STI are influenced by their inexperience, lack of skills and/or attitudes. The reasons for GP discomfort in managing STI patients need further exploration as does its impact on patient care.
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Competing interests: None declared.
An institutional research grant from the University of New England supported the study.
Contributions: AK designed the study, analysed the data, interpreted the data analysis and contributed to manuscript writing. DP, RH and VM contributed to designing the study, interpreting the results, and writing the manuscript.
Ethical approval: Ethical approval for the study was granted by the Ethics Committee of the University of New England, Australia.