Background: To meet their sexually transmitted infection (STI) control mission, STI clinics most often offer services at no or minimal cost to clients. However, there is little knowledge about the effects of charging service fees on clinic attendance and STI identification. As a result of budget shortfalls, a clinic fee of 15 US dollars for Denver residents (up to 65 US dollars for nonresidents) was introduced in the Denver Metro Health (STI) Clinic (DMHC) in December 2002. We evaluated the effects of the fee on clinic utilization and diagnosed Chlamydia trachomatis (CT) and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (GC) infections.
Methods: Using the DMHC computerized medical record system, we compared clinic visits and CT/GC diagnoses between the first 3 quarters of 2002 and 2003. We also compared CT/GC cases reported by DMHC with those reported by other Denver providers during 2002 and 2003.
Results: Compared with 2002, there were 3250 fewer visits (-28.5%) to DMHC in 2003 with no variance across quarters. CT diagnoses declined by 427 cases (-28.1%), disproportionately affecting women (-40%) and those under 20 (-42%). In addition, there were 332 fewer GC diagnoses (-38.1%) with no clear demographic preponderance. Although there were some decreases in non-DMHC CT/GC reports, the ratio of DMHC to non-DMHC reports declined from 0.42 to 0.33 (-21.4%) for CT and from 0.94 to 0.61 (-35.1%) for GC.
Conclusions: Even a modest fee for service appears to have a major impact on the use of STI clinic services and may result in a significant effect on the ability to diagnose CT/GC infections, especially among those at highest risk.