Background More frequent screening of higher risk men who have sex with men (MSM) for syphilis could reduce the transmission and prevalence of syphilis. This study assessed the impact of a computer alert on the rate of syphilis testing and diagnoses among higher risk MSM.
Methods In October 2008, a computer alert was introduced at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre. This alert appeared during consultations for MSM who reported more than 10 male partners in the prior 12 months, reminding clinicians to test such higher risk men 3 monthly for syphilis. Syphilis testing rates and diagnoses among MSM were determined for the 12 months before and the 12 months after the introduction of the alert.
Results The proportion of MSM who were identified as being higher risk who were tested for syphilis in the two time periods increased from 77 % (1559/2017) to 89% (1282/1445) (p<0.001). The proportion of higher risk men diagnosed with early syphilis and who were asymptomatic for syphilis was 16% (5/31) and 53% (31/58) respectively (p=0.001). By contrast, there was no significant increase in the proportion of MSM who were identified as being lower risk who were tested for syphilis: 65% (1228/1885) and 68% (1667/2448) (p=0.4). Nor was there a significant increase in the proportion of lower risk men diagnosed with early syphilis who were asymptomatic: 10% (1/10) and 19% (3/16) respectively (p=0.6).
Conclusion The use of a computer alert was associated with increased syphilis testing of higher risk MSM attending a clinical service as well as increased detection of early, asymptomatic syphilis.