Background: Internet-based testing programs are being increasingly used to reduce testing barriers for individuals at higher risk of infection, yet the population impact and potential for exacerbation of existing health inequities of these programs are not well understood.
Objective: We used a large online sample of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Canada to measure acceptability of Internet-based testing and perceived advantages and disadvantages of this testing approach.
Methods: We asked participants of the 2011/2012 Sex Now Survey (a serial online survey of gay and bisexual men in Canada) whether they intended to use Internet-based testing and their perceived benefits and disadvantages of use. We examined whether intention to use was associated with explanatory variables spanning (A) sociodemographics, (B) Internet and technology usage, (C) sexually transmitted infections (STI)/ human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and risk, and (D) health care access and testing, using multivariable logistic regression (variable selection using Bayesian information criterion).
Results: Overall, intention to use was high (5678/7938, 71.53%) among participants with little variation by participant characteristics. In our final model, we retained the variables related to (B) Internet and technology usage: use of Internet to cruise for sex partners (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 1.46, 95% CI 1.25-1.70), use of Internet to search for sexual health information (AOR 1.36, 95% CI 1.23-1.51), and mobile phone usage (AOR 1.19, 95% 1.13-1.24). We also retained the variables for (D) health care access and testing: not "out" to primary care provider (AOR 1.24, 95% CI 1.10-1.41), delayed/avoided testing due to privacy concerns (AOR 1.77, 95% CI 1.49-2.11), and delayed/avoided testing due to access issues (AOR 1.65, 95% CI 1.40-1.95). Finally, we retained the variable being HIV positive (AOR 0.56, 95% CI 0.46-0.68) or HIV status unknown (AOR 0.89, 95% CI 0.77-1.01), age <30 years (AOR 1.41, 95% CI 1.22-1.62), and identifying as bisexual (AOR 1.18, 95% CI 1.04-1.34) or straight/other (AOR 0.67, 95% CI 0.50-0.90). The greatest perceived benefits of Internet-based testing were privacy (2249/8388, 26.81%), general convenience (1701/8388, 20.28%), and being able to test at any time (1048/8388, 12.49%). The greatest perceived drawbacks were the inability to see a doctor or nurse (1507/8388, 17.97%), wanting to talk to someone about results (1430/8388, 17.97%), not wanting online results (1084/8388, 12.92%), and low trust (973/8388, 11.60%).
Conclusions: The high and wide-ranging intention to use that we observed suggests Internet-based testing has the potential to reach into all subgroups of MSM and may be particularly appealing to those facing current barriers to accessing STI/HIV testing and who are more comfortable with technology. These findings will be used to inform the promotion and further evaluation of an Internet-based testing program currently under development in British Columbia, Canada.
Keywords: Internet; health equity; homosexuality; human immunodeficiency virus; male; patient acceptance of health care; sexually transmitted infection; testing.