Web-Based Activity Within a Sexual Health Economy: Observational Study

Katy Me Turner*, Adam K Zienkiewicz, Jonathan Syred, Katharine J Looker, Joia de Sa, Michael Brady, Caroline Free, Gillian Holdsworth, Paula Baraitser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
293 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Regular testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is important to maintain sexual health. Self-sampling kits ordered online and delivered in the post may increase access, convenience, and cost-effectiveness. Sexual health economies may target limited resources more effectively by signposting users toward Web-based or face-to-face services according to clinical need.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this paper was to investigate the impact of two interventions on testing activity across a whole sexual health economy: (1) the introduction of open access Web-based STI testing services and (2) a clinic policy of triage and signpost online where users without symptoms who attended clinics for STI testing were supported to access the Web-based service instead.

METHODS: Data on attendances at all specialist public sexual health providers in an inner-London area were collated into a single database. Each record included information on user demographics, service type accessed, and clinical activity provided, including test results. Clinical activity was categorized as a simple STI test (could be done in a clinic or online), a complex visit (requiring face-to-face consultation), or other.

RESULTS: Introduction of Web-based services increased total testing activity across the whole sexual health economy by 18.47% (from 36,373 to 43,091 in the same 6-month period-2014-2015 and 2015-2016), suggesting unmet need for testing in the area. Triage and signposting shifted activity out of the clinic onto the Web-based service, with simple STI testing in the clinic decreasing from 16.90% (920/5443) to 12.25% (511/4172) of total activity, P<.001, and complex activity in the clinic increasing from 69.15% (3764/5443) to 74.86% (3123/4172) of total activity, P<.001. This intervention created a new population of online users with different demographic and clinical profiles from those who use Web-based services spontaneously. Some triage and signposted users (29.62%, 375/1266) did not complete the Web-based testing process, suggesting the potential for missed diagnoses.

CONCLUSIONS: This evaluation shows that users can effectively be transitioned from face-to-face to Web-based services and that this introduces a new population to Web-based service use and changes the focus of clinic-based activity. Further development is underway to optimize the triage and signposting process to support test completion.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere74
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Early online date7 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • testing
  • internet
  • self-sampling

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