Understanding sexual healthcare seeking behaviour: why a broader research perspective is needed.

Mapp, F; Wellings, K; Hickson, F; Mercer, CH; (2017) Understanding sexual healthcare seeking behaviour: why a broader research perspective is needed. BMC Health Serv Res, 17 (1). p. 462. ISSN 1472-6963 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-017-2420-z

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Despite effective and accessible treatments, many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in high-income countries go untreated, causing poor sexual health for individuals and their partners. Research into STI care has tended to focus on biomedical aspects of infections using patient samples and prioritised attendance at healthcare services. This approach overlooks the broader social context of STIs and healthcare-seeking behaviours, which are important to better understand the issue of untreated infections. This paper is structured around three main arguments to improve understanding of help-seeking behaviour for STIs in order to help reduce the burden of untreated STIs for both individuals and public health. Firstly, biomedical perspectives must be combined with sociological approaches to align individual priorities with clinical insights. More research attention on understanding the subjective experiences of STI symptoms and links to healthcare-seeking behaviour is also needed. Secondly, a focus on non-attendance at healthcare services is required to address the patient-centric focus of STI research and to understand the reasons why individuals do not seek care. Finally, research using non-patient samples recruited from outside medical contexts is vital to accurately reflect the range of behaviours, beliefs and health issues within the population to ensure appropriate and effective service provision. We suggest piggy-backing other research on to existing studies as an effective way to recruit participants not defined by their patient status, and use a study recruiting a purposive non-patient sample from an existing dataset - Britain's third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) as an illustrative example. STIs are common but treatable, however a range of social and cultural factors prevent access to healthcare services and contribute to the burden of untreated infection. Different conceptual and empirical approaches are needed to better understand care-seeking behaviour and reduce the gap between social and biomedical advancements in managing untreated infection.

Item Type: Article
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Social and Environmental Health Research
PubMed ID: 28683744
Web of Science ID: 405242800001
URI: http://researchonline.lshtm.ac.uk/id/eprint/4052655


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