King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine lead successful internet-based STI testing trial

Working in partnership with digital sexual health service SH:24, King’s and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have carried out a study aimed at increasing the number of people being treated for prevalent sexually-transmitted infections in London.

The study featured a randomised controlled trial of more than 2000 people in the local boroughs of Lambeth & Southwark, in which participants were offered an online version of STI testing instead of existing face-to-face services at health clinics in their local areas.

There were more than 100,000 new STIs diagnosed in London residents in 2016 and almost half of new HIV diagnoses in the UK in 2015 were recorded in London. The rate of infection is disproportionately high among young adults (under 25 years), black minority and ethnic (BME) groups and men who have sex with men (MSM).

As a result of the study, researchers found that number of participants seeking testing was nearly doubled in those who had access to internet-based STI testing (e-STI testing) as opposed to those who were invited to a regular face-to-face appointment in a health clinic. One group of the trial received details by text of the locations, contact details and websites of local sexual health clinics, whereas the trial’s other group received a message with a link to the e-STI testing and results platform hosted by SH:24.

The principal study investigators at both King’s and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine state that e-STI testing should be used in tandem with conventional services as a means of increasing the uptake of STI testing in London.

Emma Wilson of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine 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.”

Dr Paula Baraitser of King’s added:

“Although the intervention group were given information to access an e-STI service, some of them chose to use face-to-face services instead of e-STI testing. Therefore it is important that both online and clinical based services are available to meet the differing needs of people.”

“As sexual health services develop we would like to see further work aligning online and clinic based services. Going forward we advise joint commissioning of these different modalities of care to ensure that users are able to move easily from one to another according to their health care needs, allowing continuity of care.”

Further details of the study can be found on the King’s research pages.

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