Background Online health interventions are integrated within existing systems of sexual health care, however, their perception by health care providers is rarely considered. We sought to understand the opinions of health care providers working in sexual and reproductive health of GetCheckedOnline (GCO), a new internet testing programme for STIs, HIV and Hepatitis C in British Columbia, and how they perceived it integrating with their future practise.
Methods In 2012, one investigator conducted six focus groups with a total of 49 participants (21 nurses, 12 physicians, 16 other staff); observers in each group took notes, supplemented by audio recordings where possible. Participants were presented with the GCO model and questioned about perceived risks, benefits, utility, and impact on/integration with their practise. Focus group notes were thematically analysed using NVivo and findings validated with observers.
Results Focus group participants described GCO as an inevitable evolution within and complement to the current system of care, where the benefits of shifting locus of control to patients, addressing testing barriers, and increasing engagement in care may be offset by perpetuating existing inequities for some groups. Participants discussed the potential for personal harm (e.g., anxiety at receipt of positive results, misunderstanding of limitations of tests) and clinical harm related to provision of inadequate/sub-standard clinical care. However, they also indicated that they were likely to integrate GCO with their own practise, under certain scenarios (e.g., referral of low-risk clients or triage of people seeking testing appointments).
Conclusions Providers expressed favourable opinions of internet testing in general and support for GCO. Concerns about potential harms (many of which participants acknowledged existed within the current clinic-based testing system) were generally offset by the perceived benefits of the service. Participants also provided many suggestions for mitigation of potential harms, which have been incorporated into the GCO programme where possible.
- health care provider
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