The future of STI testing is here, and it's online
A primer on all the options available to Canadians right now, and how to use them.
Ah, the awkward silence of the sexual health clinic waiting room. Anyone who's spent more than five minutes flipping through old magazines while furiously avoiding eye contact with the person across from you, knows how excruciating waiting to get an STI test can be. Sure, it might be a rite of passage (albeit an unpleasant one), but what sane person wouldn't want to avoid it entirely?
Which is why some healthcare providers and digital entrepreneurs are moving STI testing online, where it can be done confidentially and with the fewest uncomfortable interactions as possible. And given how much we do on our phones every day — from ordering groceries to finding apartments to, well, basically anything — it only makes sense that getting your sexual health checkup would be the next thing to move online.
A few options for online STI testing are available in Canada, all of which use a basic three step process. First you visit a website, where you fill out some basic screening information and order a home self-collection kit or lab requisition form. Then, you send in or drop off a sample at a participating testing facility, and when you are notified via email that your results are ready, you log back into the website to access them. In the case of a positive result, healthcare professionals are available to talk about next steps and treatment.
The biggest drawback of online testing, at this stage, is cost. With the exception of Get Checked Online, which is only available in some parts of BC, the high price tag of some of the at-home testing systems could put them out of reach for some people who can't afford more than the $80 a pop most companies charge. Hopefully future innovation, and even government funding, might lower the price and make online STI testing accessible for everyone across Canada.
Here's a run-down of three online testing services currently available in Canada.
How does it work? You log in and, after answering screening questions about your sexual and reproductive health, purchase your test online. You send your samples by mail to a testing facility and you are notified via email when your results are ready, at which point you log back in to get your (confidential) results. In the case of a positive test, a physician will be in touch to talk about the diagnosis and next steps.
How much does it cost? Basic testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea costs $85, and testing for high-risk strains of HPV (i.e. those that have been linked to cervical cancer) costs $110. You can also donate an HPV test to someone who might need it for $75, and support community screening programs by buying a V necklace for $45.
Where is it available? The kits are available across Canada, and Eve Kit offers expedited shipping options if time is a concern.
Run by the BC Center for Disease Control (BCCDC), this web-based testing system is the first in Canada to be offered by a government agency and integrated into existing sexual health services.
How does it work? After signing up and answering some screening questions online, you print out a lab requisition form and drop off your samples at a participating Life Labs (a Canadian lab testing company) location. You are notified when your results are available online. If any of your tests are positive or there is a problem with the sample, a nurse will contact you to discuss the results.
How much does it cost? Exactly zero dollars. You can get tested for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis C free of charge.
Where is it available? The service is available in Vancouver and in select communities on Vancouver Island and in interior BC, though the BCCDC is hoping to expand to other areas in the future. The full list of participating Life Labs locations is available online.
This Dublin based company recently expanded into Canada with a range of health testing services, including Fertility Screening, Testosterone Check and STI testing services. They have a live chat service that answers any questions you have, too.
How does it work? Like the Eve Kit, this testing service will send you a kit in the mail, which you mail to labs in either BC or Ontario. They then notify you when your results are available online. In the case of a positive test, support is provided by a registered nurse.
How much does it cost? Four different packages are available, ranging from basic testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea (retailing for $120) to a more thorough (and pricey) test for the ten most common bacterial and viral sexually transmitted infections ($380).
Where is it available? Mail-in service is available across Canada.
Miranda Elliott has a Masters in epidemiology and works in public health.