Web-Based Activity Within a Sexual Health Economy: Observational Study

J Med Internet Res. 2018 Mar 7;20(3):e74. doi: 10.2196/jmir.8101.


Background: Regular testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is important to maintain sexual health. Self-sampling kits ordered online and delivered in the post may increase access, convenience, and cost-effectiveness. Sexual health economies may target limited resources more effectively by signposting users toward Web-based or face-to-face services according to clinical need.

Objective: The aim of this paper was to investigate the impact of two interventions on testing activity across a whole sexual health economy: (1) the introduction of open access Web-based STI testing services and (2) a clinic policy of triage and signpost online where users without symptoms who attended clinics for STI testing were supported to access the Web-based service instead.

Methods: Data on attendances at all specialist public sexual health providers in an inner-London area were collated into a single database. Each record included information on user demographics, service type accessed, and clinical activity provided, including test results. Clinical activity was categorized as a simple STI test (could be done in a clinic or online), a complex visit (requiring face-to-face consultation), or other.

Results: Introduction of Web-based services increased total testing activity across the whole sexual health economy by 18.47% (from 36,373 to 43,091 in the same 6-month period-2014-2015 and 2015-2016), suggesting unmet need for testing in the area. Triage and signposting shifted activity out of the clinic onto the Web-based service, with simple STI testing in the clinic decreasing from 16.90% (920/5443) to 12.25% (511/4172) of total activity, P<.001, and complex activity in the clinic increasing from 69.15% (3764/5443) to 74.86% (3123/4172) of total activity, P<.001. This intervention created a new population of online users with different demographic and clinical profiles from those who use Web-based services spontaneously. Some triage and signposted users (29.62%, 375/1266) did not complete the Web-based testing process, suggesting the potential for missed diagnoses.

Conclusions: This evaluation shows that users can effectively be transitioned from face-to-face to Web-based services and that this introduces a new population to Web-based service use and changes the focus of clinic-based activity. Further development is underway to optimize the triage and signposting process to support test completion.

Keywords: internet; self-sampling; sexually transmitted diseases; testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Sexual Health / economics*