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An eHealth Answer for Sexually Transmitted Infections

ELECTRONIC SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTION (eSTI) testing has been shown to greatly increase the number of people completing an STI test, when compared with the use of a standard walk-in sexual health clinic, a new study, carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and King’s College London, London, UK, reports.

The aim of the study was to determine the effectiveness of eSTI testing in regard to STI testing rate and subsequent diagnosis, compared to the use of physical clinics. The use of cheaper eSTI testing solutions is predicted to increase in the future following reductions to public health budgets. The trial directed >2,000 patients to an online portal that offered home STI testing kits, testing services, and a list of local sexual health clinics. The control group were directed to attend a sexual health clinic.

The results of the study revealed that 50% of the eSTI group took the opportunity to test themselves, whereas only 26.6% of the control group attended a clinic and completed a test. Critically, it was shown that eSTI testing promoted the number of patients from key groups, including men who have sex with men, and patients from black or ethnic minority backgrounds, who sought out sexual health testing. Moreover, the use of eSTI testing enabled the screening of a wider range of STI.

Furthermore, 2.8% of eSTI group members were diagnosed with an STI compared to 1.4% in the control group; however, the sample size was too small to ascertain significance. Further tests  that make use of a larger trial and control group should be carried out before any conclusions regarding the success of the new eSTI system can be drawn. In addition, some of the eSTI group participants chose to make use of physical centres rather than the online solution, suggesting that eSTI testing will not completely remove the need for physical centres. Indeed, as one of the researchers, Dr Paula Baraitser, King’s College London, concluded: “…it is important that both online and clinical based services are available to meet the differing needs of people.”