Update, June 17, 2015:
Planned Parenthood has launched a new app that allows California users to order confidential chlamydia and gonorrhea home test kits.
Once ordered, the test kit is sent to users by mail in discreet packaging with simple, step-by-step instructions. Users send a urine sample directly to Planned Parenthood labs and get test results privately through the app. If test results are positive, users are informed how to obtain treatment.
Planned Parenthood Direct is available for free through the Android or Apple app stores, but to order the test kit costs $149.
Ramin Bastani wants to reduce the anxiety and hassle of testing for common sexually transmitted diseases.
After being tested more than 50 times for various STDs, and often waiting weeks for results, the 39-year-old entrepreneur decided to devote himself to making the experience less awkward and easier. In 2010, he launched Los Angeles-based Healthvana, a service that gives patients immediate access to their lab results.
Patients who opt to receive their results via Healthvana receive an email instructing them to log in to the secure online portal. The time-stamped results can also be viewed through the official iPhone app or online (there is no Android or Windows mobile app).
“So many people never get their results,” Bastani says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time that I’ve been tested for STDs and HIV—and I’ve been tested a lot—after you go to the visit they say, ‘Thanks so much for coming in today, and if you don’t hear from us within 10 days, no news is good news.’ That’s how they leave you, that’s how test results are delivered.”
Bastani says it’s critical for patients to get access to information in real time. “No news is not good news,” he says.
Healthvana is integrated with laboratories, so as soon as lab results are done, they are sent to the patient through the Healthvana portal. Ideally, partners will share their results with each other before sex. The app, Bastani says, is the easiest way to view a prospective partner’s verified STD negative or positive status, because very few people carry paper results with them to clubs or bars.
The service can be used by people being tested for a variety of STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. The service also provides next-step options for treatments. Those seeking their HIV-status will receive negative results through the app, but will not receive positive results via Healthvana; Bastani hopes to soon allow HIV-positive patients to have their viral load verified.
“Healthvana empowers you to make better health care decisions,” he says.
A widely circulated 2014 report from the California Department of Public Health found that in 2013 STD rates spiked; rates of newly reported gonorrhea cases rose 13 percent, and syphilis rose 18 percent, compared to 2012 levels.
“STD rates continue to be highest in young people 15-24 years of age, especially for females, with over 66 percent of female chlamydia cases and over 54 percent of female gonorrhea cases being in this narrow age group,” according to the study.
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, says young people under age 25 are most at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, partly because they use "hookup" apps like Tinder and Grindr.
“In the U.S. among young people, 90 percent of them get most of their information from smartphones,” Klausner says. “This is the way of the future for sexual health, because it’s private, people can be anonymous, it’s convenient.”
Klausner serves as a medical advisor to Healthvana and recommends people 25 and under get tested at least once each year. People with same-sex partners should be tested four times each year.
“It’s critical with the epidemics in the U.S. with chlamydia in young adults, HIV in men who have sex with men, that we de-stigmatize testing and make it easier,” he says.
To help stem the tide, especially among young people, Healthvana recently partnered with the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to allow their patients real-time access to their test results on their mobile phones.
“We’re removing the stigma and barriers to getting tested. Everyone thinks about this, everybody knows the right things to do, but this makes the conversation easier,” Bastani says. “Show me your results, I’ll show you mine.”
In 2015, nearly 10,000 AIDS Healthcare Foundation patients received their test results through Healthvana; 70 percent of them accessed their records within four hours of the results being available.
“We are excited about our collaboration with Healthvana and are already seeing stunning results in folks accessing their STD results and accessing treatment more quickly as a result,” said Whitney Engeran-Cordova, senior director of the Public Health Division at AHF, in a statement.
Mike McKany, director of Public Health Division at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Southern Bureau, says most users are comfortable with the service and appreciate the convenience.
“I’m quite pleasantly pleased on how well it’s been received and how excited people are about it,” he says. “We’re looking at the way of the future. People will walk around with their health records on their phones, just like they have their financial data on their phones. I’m so pleased.”
Dr. Adam M. Rubinstein, an Illinois-based primary care physician specializing in internal medicine and psychopharmacology, says he often treats patients suffering from anxiety and sexually transmitted diseases.
“I think that the major benefit of the app is the immediate results back to the patient,” Rubinstein says, “because one of the major problems with STD testing is the fear and anxiety the patient experiences while waiting for their results. Getting results immediately will help to allay their fears or give them important information for seeking treatment, which is a good public health measure.”
However, he is concerned about patient privacy and the potential for hackers to get at the information, because the results, especially if positive, are incredibly sensitive.
“As long as they can overcome the issues of privacy, I think it’s great, Rubenstein says. “Patients are becoming consumers. I fully commend them. Unfortunately, fear and anxiety cause a lot of suffering and increased health care costs. This will enable patients to move forward in their day.” Rubinstein is not associated with Healthvana.
The service remains free to patients, because it is purchased by clinics and health care providers. There are dozens of participating clinics in seven states and the District of Colombia. Low-income patients without access to working phones benefit from Healthvana because they can view results online, even at public libraries.
Daniel Gaitan is the multimedia content producer and reporter for Life Matters Media, a nonprofit providing news and information about end of life-related issues. He's a contributor to Reuters Health and also serves as a general assignment reporter for the Kenosha News in Wisconsin. In 2013, he earned his M.A. from DePaul University in Chicago. Daniel also earned his B.A. in journalism from DePaul. In 2012, he was the proud recipient of the Carlos Hernandez Award in Meritorious Journalism.