SHAME, embarrassment and fear of judgement can hold people back from getting a sexual health check, but a Hunter-based initiative is hoping to break down some of those barriers.
Singleton GP Mitchell Tanner, with business partner James Sneddon, launched Stigma Health in December as an online alternative for people to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“There was a 2011 study called Understanding Barriers to STI Testing Among Young People, which identified several reasons,” Dr Tanner said.
“But some of the more prominent ones were embarrassment, fear of staff attitudes, cost, and time factors.”
Dr Tanner said a 2016 Kirby Institute report showed that rates of STIs, with the exception of HIV, were increasing in Australia. While the report noted the growing rate could be proportional to increased testing, he said the rates were still “well below” where they needed to be.
“We’re providing an alternative way for people to get STI tests, because clearly not enough people are using the traditional methods already available,” he said.
Stigma Health asks patients six key questions about their sexual behaviour, cultural background, and drug use to determine which pathology tests are needed.
Dr Tanner then issues a pathology request form via the MediRecords App.
“I review the results and send a notification to that app advising of the results.”
In the case of chlamydia, the most common STI, Dr Tanner would provide a prescription for an antibiotic, which would be sent to the patient in the mail.
When further treatment was required, they issued a letter explaining the diagnosis and urging patients to see their GP or sexual health clinic to start treatment.
About 200 Australian patients over the age of 16 had used the service, returning “several” positive results. Dr Tanner said it made STI testing more convenient, more affordable, and it eliminated having “potentially awkward or embarrassing” conversations face-to-face.
“If they can order their test online, they don’t have to waste time in a waiting room,” he said.
“For all of those reasons, hopefully we can increase the STI testing rates through our service.
“We have been identifying STIs in a wide variety of our patients, and far and away our largest uptake has been in the population of men who have sex with men,” he said.
The service offers testing for the most common and serious STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, hepatitis B, C and A, syphilis and HIV.