How to Mention the Unmentionables to Your Health Care Provider

Summer 2011 CSANews Issue 79  |  Posted date : Jul 08, 2011.Back to list

Are you anxious to talk to your health professional about urinary incontinence, prostate problems, sexual dysfunction, sexually transmitted diseases, or gynecological problems? Probably not. In one survey, these were the top five issues that people are embarrassed to raise with a health care provider, in some cases waiting years to seek help - if ever. 

"It's understandable that some issues can be difficult to talk about, but you should never delay getting advice or treatment," says Jo-Ann Willson, president of the Federation of Health Regulatory Colleges of Ontario (FHRCO). "Any regulated health care provider will deal with you in a private, confidential, knowledgeable and professional manner."

FHRCO is the umbrella group for Ontario's 24 health regulatory colleges, which govern almost 260,000 health professionals, hold them accountable, set standards for the professions, and administer quality assurance programs (

As Willson says, no matter your symptom, condition or query, these professionals have heard and seen it all before. So how do you beat your embarrassment? Health professionals
suggest these four strategies:

1) Acknowledge the embarrassment
"This is a hard for me to talk about, but..."

2) Use whatever words work
No need to be overly clinical or descriptive if that's uncomfortable, as long your health care professional understands what you're experiencing.

3) Write it down
Documenting your questions or concerns can keep your thoughts organized, and help ensure that you'll raise them. If necessary, you can even hand the note to your provider to get the conversation going.

4) Find your strength
That includes learning about the issue before seeing your provider (knowledge is power), and sharing your concerns with someone you trust (you'll get the support you need to discuss it with a health care professional).

There are many reasons why people might hesitate raising an issue with their care provider - fear, shyness, a misconception that the problem isn't treatable, a feeling that it's part of aging, or a belief that it just goes with being a man or a woman. Too often, the only obstacle to receiving the help you need is your own apprehension.

"Whatever the issue, you can expect your regulated health care provider to treat you with respect and dignity, and to have the experience, skill and judgment to handle any situation," says Willson. "Your embarrassment will quickly go away, and will be replaced by a plan to properly address the health issue."