With Mark Gilbert (Medical Director, Clinical Prevention Services at the BC Centre for Disease Control) and Devon Haag (Program Manager, BC Online Sexual Health Services Program in Clinical Prevention Services at the BC Centre for Disease Control)
What is digital public health and how can it be used to improve public health programs and services?
Mark and Devon start by walking us through the concept of digital public health which aims to use the strategies and technologies of the Internet-era to improve health practice and health outcomes. The digital age offers opportunities to design health interventions and services that are more user-centered and responsive. This sounds great in theory, but how do we know that new technologies and approaches are truly leading to health and service improvements? Mark and Devon present the evaluation of their “virtual clinic” for testing for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI), GetChecked Online, as a case study.
What is it and who is it for?
GetCheckedOnline was designed as an extension to the Provincial STBBI clinic operated by the BC Centre for Disease Control, in partnership with the BC Public Health Laboratory. It was conceptualized as a solution to reduce barriers to accessing testing and improve uptake and frequency of testing. The service aims to serve populations who are known to face barriers to testing or have increased risk of infection, including youth; gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men; and rural populations. Formative research and program planning began in 2009, with the service officially launching in 2014. GetCheckedOnline is currently available in Vancouver, as well as some locations on Vancouver Island & the Interior.
How it works
Users who have received a promo code can create a profile on the website and complete an online assessment to receive a requisition for recommended tests. The requisition is presented to a participating LifeLabs location where the user will provide specimens for testing. Notifications for results are sent by email when ready, and negative test results are viewable online when the user logs into their GetCheckedOnline account. For positive or problem results, the user will see a message to contact the STI clinic.
In the years following its launch, GetCheckedOnline has seen a progressive uptake in testers and STI diagnoses in all regions it is offered. Furthermore, their research suggests that they are reaching individuals who face barriers to testing and are at risk for STIs, including people who have not tested in over a year and people testing for HIV for the first time. Through online surveys, the team has been able to monitor client satisfaction and experience, and have found the service is valued for the convenience and privacy offered.
On the horizon
The GetCheckedOnline team is working to further improve the service and to expand to additional regions in British Columbia. They’re also looking at adopting the model for other diseases through new partnerships.