Using smartphone apps in STD interviews to find sexual partners

Public Health Rep. 2015 May-Jun;130(3):245-52. doi: 10.1177/003335491513000311.


Objectives: Smartphone applications (apps) are increasingly used to facilitate casual sexual relationships, increasing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In STD investigations, traditional contact elicitation methods can be enhanced with smartphone technology during field interviews.

Methods: In 2013, the Monroe County Department of Public Health conducted a large, multi-infection STD investigation among men who have sex with men (MSM) using both index case and cluster interviews. When patients indicated meeting sexual partners online, disease intervention specialists (DISs) had access to smartphone apps and were able to elicit partners through access to inboxes and profiles where traditional contact information was lacking. Social network mapping was used to display the extent of the investigation and the impact of access to smartphones on the investigation.

Results: A total of 14 index patient interviews and two cluster interviews were conducted; 97 individuals were identified among 117 sexual dyads. On average, eight partners were elicited per interview (range: 1-31). The seven individuals who used apps to find partners had an average of three Internet partners (range: 1-5). Thirty-six individuals either had a new STD (n=7) or were previously known to be HIV-positive (n=29). Of the 117 sexual dyads, 21 (18%) originated either online (n=8) or with a smartphone app (n=13). Of those originating online or with a smartphone app, six (29%) partners were located using the smartphone and two (10%) were notified of their exposure via a website. Three of the new STD/HIV cases were among partners who met online.

Conclusion: Smartphone technology used by DISs in the field improved contact elicitation and resulted in successful partner notification and case finding.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Contact Tracing / methods*
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Racial Groups
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / diagnosis
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / transmission*
  • Young Adult