Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=153376
Story Retrieval Date: 4/20/2014 6:30:22 PM CST
A Chicago company is offering a Web-based product that not only provides information about sexually transmitted diseases, but also offers testing even if consumers do not have health insurance or a primary care physician.
“They can talk to us and be in a testing center in 15 minutes,” said Julie Springer the general manager of Analyte Media, the company behind STDtestExpress.com.
The use of the Internet for this service is part of a movement known as Health 2.0 that provides Web-based tools to help consumers take control of their health and health care options.
It’s a field which Analyte’s founders Dan Malven and Michelle Sobel know quite a lot about. Malven is a long-time venture capitalist and CEO of several successful Web-based companies. Sobel was co-founder with her husband, Dr. David Sobel, of Emmi Solutions, the award-winning Web site that uses technology to make complex medical information comprehensible to patients.
Through their research, Anlayte’s leadership team learned about online testing for sexually transmitted diseases. They believed they could improve the testing experience by developing a better consumer tool to work with the process already in use by other companies.
“They [Malven and Sobel] realized there was a tremendous amount of need,” Springer said, “and also a tremendous amount of business opportunity or profit opportunity in doing so.”
At STDtestExpress.com the consumers can log on, create an account and select as many as eight conditions for which they want to test, including chlamydia, syphilis and HIV. They then pay for the test and select a nearby testing center. Nineteen centers are located in the Chicago metropolitan area, including one in northwest Indiana. The site generates a doctor’s order for the test and a receipt that consumers take to the laboratory/testing center.
At the lab the consumers present their receipts and give either a blood or urine sample. When the results are ready, the consumer gets a “results ready” e-mail. At that time they can log back onto the secure site to get their results, using the account information they received when they ordered the test.
The company takes precautions to protect the consumer’s privacy on the site and in the lab, going to far as to send the results e-mail from the non-descript “PNH Services.” According to the STDtestExpress.com, their labs test people for many conditions, so anyone else in the waiting room wouldn’t know why the consumer was there. The entire process is completed within three days.
If the results are negative, meaning no STD was found, the consumer can access their results online. A Medill reporter calling the customer service line was told that if the results are positive, a physician from the consumer’s state reviews the results by phone.
“Depending on what the infection is,” Springer said, “we don’t always want consumers to find out about something like that without the guidance and experience of a physician to help them understand it.”
Despite privacy assurances and the doctor consultation, Mark Hodar, HIV/STD services manager for Howard Brown Health Center in the Lakeview neigbhborhood, has concerns about communicating test results through the Internet.
“I don’t know that the service provided by something like STDtestExpress,” Hodar said, “is as thorough or supportive as someplace like Howard Brown.”
Hodar has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and one of his responsibilities is counseling people when they get their test results. He said medical doctors might not be able to handle this task sufficiently, no matter how well meaning they may be.
“HIV remains a condition that has a heavy emotional stigma,” said Hodar who has spent 10 years giving HIV positive results. “These conversations can last upwards of an hour as you address fear and anxiety and allow the person to have their emotional reaction. That doesn’t fit in with a doctor’s allotted 15 minutes from the insurance company. “
He also added that with the counseling at Howard Brown, there is time to look into people’s motivation: why they do or do not practice safe sex and what might be done to ensure greater use of condoms or reduce other risky behaviors.
Still Hodar said, “Internet is great. It allows you to access information about health stuff in the privacy of their own home without having to show your face to somebody.”
STDtestExpress.com may provide an indication of the appeal of such anonymity to today’s health consumer. Springer would not disclose exact figures, but said that traffic to the site has increased in each of the eight months since the site went live and with increased traffic has been increased revenues.
Individual tests range from $79-$149. For $249 a consumer can order a package that screens all eight conditions.
Springer said the site continues to evolve. As the company learned more about consumers they improved the site, adding information, answers to questions. It even provided a customer service help line from its Chicago office.
Next month, Analyte Media will launch a new site geared toward people who aren’t really sure they need a test called “you never really know.”
“One of the key promotions,” Springer said, “is our test2gether program where we really focus on and offer discounts for couples to get tested at the same time.”
Springer said the company hopes to launch the new site in time for Valentine’s Day.