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Does My Doctor Do STD Testing As Part of My Regular Check-Up?

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Updated February 03, 2014

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Does My Doctor Do STD Testing As Part of My Regular Check-Up? Keith Brofsky/Getty Images
Question: Does My Doctor Do STD Testing As Part of My Regular Check-Up?
Answer: Many people think that their doctor routinely does STD testing as part of an annual exam. Most of them are actually wrong.

Although sexually active individuals should be regularly screened for at least chlamydia, gonorrhea, and cervical cancer, and the CDC recommends universal HIV testing, most of the time people aren't tested for STDs on any regular schedule. STD testing is not done by most doctors, not even most gynecologists, as part of a yearly check-up. In fact, many patients find that they have to ask their doctors for STD tests -- something that can cause a great deal of embarrassment for some. This may be particularly true for older patients and patients who have long-standing relationships with their physicians.

This is a real problem, because the shame and stigma associated with STDs make it difficult for many people to ask their doctors for testing. When screening doesn't occur, it can make it very easy for asymptomatic diseases to spread out of control. If more doctors were more proactive about routine screening, the "hidden epidemic" might be better in hand. However, and this may come to a shock to some people, many doctors are just as uncomfortable talking about safe sex and STDs as their patients, and this discomfort can make it difficult for them to discuss the tests that need to be performed.

Another problem is that many doctors, particularly those in private practice, may not think that their patient population is at risk of acquiring an STD. However, in every neighborhood, there will be individuals who are infected with STDs. Realistically speaking, there is no sexually active population at such low risk for chlamydia and other STDs that regular screening would not be a benefit.

There are some places that are relatively good about conforming to STD screening guidelines, such as Planned Parenthood, and it may be easier for some people to go there than to ask their regular physician for tests. Still, there's no reason not to make STD testing part of your annual exam. The tests may well be covered by your insurance, and making them part of your annual visit will ensure that they get done on a proper schedule.

In 2007, a study by the CDC found that only 40% of sexually active young women with health insurance were regularly screened for chlamydia. That number is way too low, particularly when you consider that the extremely common disease can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and other long-term health problems if left untreated.

What can be done? Until more doctors become aware of the issue, and start performing regular STD screening for all their patients, it will remain each sexually active individual's personal responsibility to ask for regular testing for themselves and their sexual partners.

Sources:

"Chlamydia Screening Among Sexually Active Young Female Enrollees of Health Plans --- United States, 2000--2007" MMWR Weekly April 17, 2009 / 58(14);362-365

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