Background Several jurisdictions globally have implemented internet-based STI and HIV testing with good uptake and reach into untested populations. In British Columbia, a similar program is under development to offer online access to chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and HIV testing. This program aims to increase the frequency of testing in individuals at risk of infection and ease demand on clinic-based services by providing an accessible option for screening asymptomatic persons. We conducted a series of focus groups in spring 2011 to determine the acceptability of various aspects of the internet testing model and of the service overall.
Methods Two types of prospective internet testing clients living in the Vancouver area were recruited for focus groups: self-identified gay/bisexual/two-spirit men (hereafter “gay men”) and STI clinic clients. Participants were presented with a brief description of the internet testing model, after which a structured interview guide was used to address the following domains: willingness to provide personal information online, ways to engender trust in the service, comfort with different ways of delivering results, interest in specific features, appeal of the service, and willingness to use the service.
Results Most of the 31 participants to-date (ages 21–70 years) were gay men (81%) and reported post-secondary education (74%). All were self-described active internet users and had been tested previously for HIV or other STI. Overall, the concept of internet testing was thought to be acceptable and most participants expressed interest in using the service when it becomes available. Participants indicated that internet testing would be convenient and could enhance the accessibility of STI testing, particularly for people living outside of urban centres. Some noted that an internet approach would also have the potential to allay embarrassment that can arise when seeking STI testing in a face-to-face clinical setting. There was strong interest in assuring anonymity for those using the proposed internet testing service. Participants also emphasised the importance of providing information related to HIV diagnosis and referrals to peer support and counselling for those waiting for and receiving test results.
Conclusions Internet testing was deemed to be acceptable and desirable and appears to hold promise as a means to complement to existing clinic-based STI testing services in Vancouver, Canada.
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