Ethical Implications of eHealth Tools for Delivering STI/HIV Laboratory Results and Partner Notifications

Curr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2021 Jun;18(3):237-246. doi: 10.1007/s11904-021-00549-y. Epub 2021 Mar 26.


Purpose of review: eHealth tools are increasingly utilized for communication with patients. Although efficacious and cost-effective, these tools face several barriers that challenge their ethical use in sexual health. We reviewed literature from the past decade to pick illustrative studies of eHealth tools that deliver results of laboratory tests for sexually transmitted infections, including the human immunodeficiency virus, as well as partner notifications. We describe ethical implications for such technologies.

Recent findings: Our review found that despite widespread research on the use of eHealth tools in delivering laboratory results and partner notifications, these studies rarely measured or reported on the ethical implications. Such implications can be organized according to the four major principles in bioethics: beneficence, patient autonomy, non-maleficence, and justice. The beneficence of eHealth typically measures efficacy in comparison to existing standards of care. Patient autonomy includes the ability to opt in or out of eHealth tools, right-based principles of consent, and sovereignty over healthcare data. To adhere to the principle of non-maleficence, relevant harms must be identified and measured-such as unintentional disclosure of illness, sexual orientation, or sexual activity. Justice must also be considered to accommodate all users equally, irrespective of their literacy level, with easy-to-use platforms that provide clear messages. Based on case studies from this review, we developed a list of recommendations for the ethical development and evaluation of eHealth platforms to deliver STI/HIV results to patients and notifications to partners.

Keywords: Bioethics; Contact tracing; HIV; Informed consent; Laboratories; Partner notification; Sexual partners; Sexually transmitted disease; Telemedicine; eHealth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contact Tracing
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Laboratories
  • Male
  • Sexual Partners
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Telemedicine*