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Few online STI test providers meet standards, risking public health

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Few online STI test providers meet standards, risking public health

Very few providers of online tests for sexually-transmitted diseases are meeting national standards and are putting people’s health at risk, researchers have warned.

A study published in the British Medical Journal examined 31 providers of tests in the UK and found numerous problems including tests being carried out on wrong infections, incorrect specimens being used, a lack of health promotion information and triage and tests licensed for professional use only being marketed for self-testing. 

The study said this resulted in incorrect test results, people taking unnecessary tests, poor management and inadequate clinical information and support.

The findings prompted researchers to insist regulation of online testing is lacking and they described the quality of services as “variable,” bringing about “potential short-term and long-term personal, clinical and public health implications.”

“We found significant areas of suboptimal service for both self-test and self-sample providers that often conflicted with national guidelines on STI diagnostics and management,” the study said.

Researchers used Google and Amazon to search for tests and the study finished in June 2020. They conceded the study had limitations, such as a low response rate, the possibility that providers may have updated their website in the last two years and the difficulty in identifying all online STI test providers given they consistently change.

“The sample analysed here may therefore not be fully representative of all providers,” the study cautioned.

Nonetheless, the research raised concerns that some providers, especially for-profit providers who were found to be complying with national standards the least, are putting patient care and public health in jeopardy.

“Regulatory change is urgently needed to ensure that all online providers are compliant with national guidelines to ensure high-quality patient care, and providers are held to account if non-compliant,” warned the authors.

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