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Non-compliant online STI tests put patients at risk, experts warn

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Patients are being put at risk in the UK because very few sexually transmitted infection (STI) tests offered online meet official standards, experts have warned.

The NHS provides free in-person tests for STIs via its network of sexual health and genitourinary medicine clinics. Patients can also order tests via the internet from both NHS-commissioned and private providers, a practice that has become increasingly popular during the pandemic.

However, new research in the Sexually Transmitted Infections journal published by the BMJ found that few online STI test services meet national recommended standards, with independent sector providers the least likely to be compliant.

Online tests involve the user ordering a kit and either self-sampling by posting the specimen for laboratory analysis, or self-testing by interpreting the test themselves.

The research found that the commercial self-sample providers, which advertised to those with symptoms, did not differentiate by STI symptom severity, and eight – seven private and one NHS-commissioned provider – offered no advice on accessing preventive treatment after exposure to HIV as recommended.

Self-test providers did not appear to offer any form of order of treatment for patients and five offered tests that were intended for professional use only.

The research concluded: “Regulatory change is required to ensure that the standard of care received online meets national guidelines to protect patients and the wider population from the repercussions of underperforming or inappropriate tests."

“If we do not act now, patients will continue to receive suboptimal care with potentially significant adverse personal, clinical and public health implications.”

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Source: The Guardian, 12 April 2022

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