Mass General’s STD clinic provides a safe, confidential place where patients can get treatment.

Massachusetts General Hospital has a history of helping people with sexually transmitted disease (STD) dating back to 1821, when the hospital treated its first patient, a man with syphilis.

Today, the staff of the hospital’s Sexually Transmitted Disease/Genitourinary Infectious Disease Clinic continues to heal patients and improve the community’s health. The clinic takes many steps to ensure patient confidentiality and reduce worry, says Donna Felsenstein, MD, the clinic’s medical director since 1985.

“We want our patients to know that they did the right thing in seeking medical help.”

“Sexually transmitted diseases are a public health issue,” Dr. Felsenstein says. “We want our patients to know that they did the right thing in seeking medical help.”

Many of these infections can be successfully treated and the clinic gives its patients the best care, Dr. Felsenstein says. By educating patients about sexually transmitted infections, the clinic tries to help prevent them from becoming infected again, and, from passing the infection to someone else, she explains.

Clinic Provides Fast Diagnosis

For more than 60 years, Mass General has supported a clinic devoted to screening and treating patients with STDs. Services are open to people of all ages. The clinic team performs about 3,000 patient visits annually at the hospital’s main campus and at MGH Chelsea Health Center. Patients receive care regardless of their ability to pay.

Dr. Felsenstein says the STD clinic is committed to making the experience comfortable and easier for patients. The clinic offers walk-in and appointment hours. Usually, one provider sees a patient through a visit that can include evaluation, lab results and treatment. The clinic has a certified onsite laboratory that allows patients to learn some test results during their appointment. Patients are often able to get their medications during the visit and receive treatment faster.

When needed, clinic providers refer patients to other specialists such as dermatologists, obstetricians-gynecologists and primary care physicians and connect them with resources to address substance abuse and domestic violence.

The STD clinic is committed to making the experience comfortable and easier for patients.

In many cases, the MGH clinic is able to make an immediate diagnosis of early-stage syphilis, using a dark field microscope, a service that is not available at all STD clinics, Dr. Felsenstein says. If syphilis is identified, the patient is treated with antibiotics before leaving the office. Any recent sexual partners of the patient can then be quickly notified that they should have an evaluation and treatment.

To improve care beyond the hospital, the STD clinic’s team serves as faculty at the Ratelle STD/HIV Prevention and Training Center of New England, a program funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New England medical providers spend several days at MGH learning from the clinic staff about how to evaluate, treat and educate patients for STDs. The clinic also participates in state surveillance programs, such as one for gonorrhea, which is tracking the infection’s resistance to antibiotics.

Three Common STDs on the Rise

In 2014, the CDC reported increases in all three STDs it tracks: chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Of the estimated 20 million new STD infections in the U.S. annually, half are among people between the ages of 15 and 24. Patients seen in the STD/GID unit are screened for these infections in addition to other STDs such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C.

Although the majority of sexually transmitted infections occur in younger adults, anyone can be infected.

Most sexually transmitted infections do not have symptoms, and most people do not realize that they have been infected, says Dr. Felsenstein. The infections can be passed to sexual partners and to unborn babies during delivery.

But the good news is that screening for STDs can help identify them early and enable treatment that can prevent complications such as infertility.

“We spend a lot of time educating our patients on how the infections are transmitted and prevented,” Dr. Felsenstein says. “The ramifications of these infections extend beyond the patient we are caring for.”

Philanthropy Can Help

For at least six years, Mass General has funded the majority of the clinic’s services, but with pressures on the hospital’s budget and unpredictable funding from the state, Dr. Felsenstein is concerned about the clinic’s future. “We have had to decrease our staff and the hours during which we can help people.”

Philanthropy would allow the clinic to continue its work, expand hours and add staff to meet growing demand.

Some patients have already responded to a modest call for philanthropy, providing donations large and small. “The patients know that we provide special care for them. We want to continue to be there for them and for the community,” Dr. Felsenstein says.

To make a donation to support the Mass General Sexually Transmitted Disease/Genitourinary Infectious Disease Program, please contact us.