September 12, 2014 / 9:56 PM / 3 years ago

Online service helps users learn and share their STD-status

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People being tested for sexually transmitted diseases can now use their computers or iPhones to quickly get the results, and experts hope this easy access will make them more likely to honestly share their STD status with their partners.

The new service, called Healthvana, allows patients access to their lab results once they are completed at a clinic or medical center, usually within days of being tested. Patients then receive an email instructing them to log-in to the secure online portal. Results can also be viewed through the official iPhone app.

All of the records are easily accessible, shareable and verified. Records are also time-stamped.

By the end of the year, the L.A.-based service will have reached more than 100,000 users since late 2010. Ramin Bastani, 38, said he founded the service to help make conversations of about sexual health less awkward and taboo.

“The biggest problem we’re solving is helping patients get their lab results, and that’s a really hard thing to do, because getting results back is not easy,” Bastani told Reuters Health. “Often when people get tested for STDs, the doctor says, ‘Thanks for getting tested today, and if you don’t hear back from us in 10 days, no news is good news.’”

Bastani, who prides himself on his safe-sex lifestyle, said he has seen many young people struggle with anxiety while waiting for results the traditional way. Others are embarrassed to learn the results in-person or over the phone.

Over the past two years, Bastani said he has been tested for STDs more than 50 times in an effort to better understand the patient experience. “No news is not good news,” he said.

The service is free to patients. Users can find participating clinics through the website (here). A pilot program was recently launched with medical centers on the East Coast.

“We aim to empower patients and help health care providers be more efficient,” he said. “Patients aren’t calling or coming in for their results. We’re the mediator.”

When a patient tests positive for a curable disease, Healthvana provides them next-step options and links them to a health care provider.

The HIPAA-compliant service can be used by people being testing for a variety of STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Those seeking their HIV-status will not receive their results via Healthvana, but HIV-positive users can have their HIV viral load verified.

Dr. Lauren Streicher, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said she believes the service has the potential to help keep younger patients informed about their sexual health.

“I think it’s very important that patients have access to their test results,” Streicher told Reuters Health. “I’m a big believer in that we should not go along with ‘no news is good news.’ ”

Streicher uses a different HIPAA-compliant portal that informs patients of conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol, but she said she does not send results likely to upset patients or cause misunderstandings. She said she would not feel comfortable sending patients their positive STD diagnoses via a portal.

“I’m torn, because I think access to information is critical for patients, and I want them to have information, but sometimes it can be upsetting or misinterpreted, and that’s problematic. Patients tend to expect the worst,” she said.

Gavy Hernandez, a 23-year-old student attending the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, Wis., said she thinks many young people would use Healthvana.

“I think it’s a good idea, if this is a legit app,” she told Reuters Health. “We would still have to educate those who use it about sex, though.”

Hernandez said some college students may not remember to use the app if they are partying or drunk.

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