Online screening for sexually transmitted infections could double the number of people getting tested, a study in Southwark has revealed.
A trial involving 2,072 people aged sixteen to 30 living in Southwark and Lambeth showed half of those using the internet for ‘e-STI testing’ went on to get screened – compared to just a quarter of people who had a face-to-face meeting at a clinic or GP surgery.
Those who took part had at least one sexual partner in the last twelve months, stated willingness to take an STI test, and had access to the internet.
Participants were randomly allocated to either receive a text message with a web link to SH:24 – an e-STI testing and results service – or a text message with the web link to a list of details for local sexual health clinics.
Researchers found 50 per cent of the group using e-STI testing had completed an STI test, compared to just 26.6 per cent of those asked to physically go to health clinics.
“The group given details of SH:24 was offered postal self-sampling test kits for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis and, when returned, were given results via text message or telephone and provided with online information about safe sex and sexual health.
The study was led by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and published in PLOS Medicine.
First author Emma Wilson, from LSHTM, said: “E-STI testing is currently being implemented in the UK as one measure to meet increasing demand for STI testing, but there is surprisingly little evidence on whether it successfully encourages uptake.
“Our study, the first of its kind, aimed to investigate the effectiveness of e-STI testing for syphilis, HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea.”
Joint senior investigator Dr Caroline Free, also from LSHTM, added: “Sexual health clinics play an important role in community health but some people may find them inconvenient or stigmatising, which can stop them attending.
“More long-term monitoring and evaluation of e-STI testing services is needed, but our study showed that when e-STI testing was made available alongside face-to-face services, the number of people getting tested for STIs nearly doubled.”
Experts said a larger study is required to understand the effects of e-STI testing on STI diagnosis and STI cases treated.
They were also clear that e-STI testing should be considered as a complement to existing services.