Original research article| Volume 95, ISSUE 3, P227-233, March 2017

Patient-provider conversations about sterilization: A qualitative analysis



      Although female sterilization is the second most commonly used contraceptive method in the US, research suggests that providers may serve as barriers to desired sterilization.

      Study design

      We conducted a modified grounded theory analysis of audio-recorded contraceptive counseling visits with 52 women who specified on a previsit survey that they wanted no future children and a supplemental analysis of visits with 14 women who wanted or were unsure about future children in which sterilization was mentioned.


      Sterilization was discussed in only 19 of the 52 visits, primarily with patients who were older women with children. Although some framed sterilization positively, many clinicians discouraged patients from pursuing sterilization, encouraging them instead to use long-acting reversible methods and framing the permanence of sterilization as undesirable. In the 33 remaining sessions, sterilization was not mentioned, and clinicians largely failed to solicit patients' future reproductive intentions. We found no clear patterns regarding discussion of sterilization in the 14 supplemental cases.


      Clinicians did not discuss sterilization with all patients for whom it might have been appropriate and thus missed opportunities to discuss sterilization as part of the full range of appropriate methods. When they did discuss sterilization, they only infrequently presented the method in positive ways and more commonly encouraged patients to choose a long-acting reversible method instead. Clinicians may want to reflect on their counseling practices around sterilization to ensure that counseling is centered on patient preferences, rather than driven by their own assumptions about the desirability of reversibility.


      Clinicians often fail to discuss sterilization as a contraceptive option with potentially appropriate candidates and, when they do, often discourage its selection. Clinicians should consider assessing reproductive intentions to ensure that potentially relevant methods are included in counseling.


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