Internet-based testing services can contribute to the spectrum of services that are needed to reduce barriers to care among young gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM). Yet, as noted previously, there are relatively few evaluations of ‘live’ internet-based interventions for young gbMSM.
We recently published findings from the first study to report results on the actual experiences of users of GetCheckedOnline, British Columbia’s internet-based testing service for sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBI).
Overview of GetCheckedOnline
GetCheckedOnline (GCO) is a service operated by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) that lets individuals test for STBBI without needing to visit a doctor or clinic in person.
Clients visit the website, create an account and a laboratory requisition, visit a participating lab for specimen collection, then get results online (if all negative) or over the phone (if any positive).
GCO offers testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea (urine, self-collected throat and rectal swabs), syphilis, HIV and hepatitis C. GCO is currently available in 6 communities across BC (Vancouver, Victoria, Langford, Duncan, Kamloops, and Nelson).
We interviewed 37 gbMSM who had used GCO at least once between 2015 and 2017 to learn about their perspectives and experiences with GCO.
Participants often expressed a preference for GCO over clinic-based testing because of enhanced perceptions of convenience and privacy. Some participants also preferred GCO because they had more control over specimen collection, indicating that they would rather collect their own throat or rectal swab specimens.
Most participants said they preferred receiving their results online via GCO, as this gave them more control than waiting for clinic staff to deliver results by phone or email. For those living outside of urban centers, GCO was viewed positively as it offered easy access to diagnostic services, including pooled nucleic acid amplification testing which was often described as being less accessible outside of urban centers. Many participants, particularly those in Vancouver, also positively regarded the clinic-based services available for gbMSM in their community.
While young gbMSM generally reported positive experiences and perceptions of GCO, they tended not to view GCO as a panacea for all their sexual health needs. For example, while some men explained that GCO could effectively meet many of their sexual health needs, it was not as useful for men taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), as they are already required to test on regular intervals with another physician.
Implications for research
We have begun to explore how future research can help identify ways that GCO can meet other client needs, including how gbMSM on PrEP can use GCO in future adaptations of GCO and PrEP delivery.
Ongoing research in this area includes a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Implementation Science Team Grant, led by Dr. Mark Gilbert at BCCDC. By studying the scale-up of GCO, new strategies may be identified to reduce barriers to testing for all British Columbians and, in the future, other jurisdictions across Canada.
- Anna Carson, Research Coordinator at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use
- Cathy Chabot, Research Manager at the BC Centre onSubstance Use
- Knight R, Chabot C, Carson A, Thomson K, Haag D, Gilbert M & Shoveller J. (2018) A qualitative analysis of the experiences of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men who use GetCheckedOnline.com: A comprehensive internet-based diagnostic service for HIV and other STIs. Sex Transm Infect Published Online First: 13 January 2019. Doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2018-053645. https://sti.bmj.com/content/early/2019/01/12/sextrans-2018-053645.full