What You Should Know About Online STD Testing

Many people find STD screening to be extremely stressful. Why?

  • They may be reluctant to ask their doctor for testing or talk about their risk factors.
  • Visiting a free clinic can seem stigmatizing or overwhelming.
  • They may resent dealing with doctors who are reluctant or unwilling to test their patients for STDs.

These factors, combined with expectations of privacy and ease, can make Internet STD test sites seem like an excellent option.

A woman getting her blood drawn
 Blue Cinema / Getty Images

You can get fast, accurate results from an online STD testing website. However, that is not the only possible result. Online STD testing isn't well regulated. Therefore, it's important to do your research when looking for STD testing.

Diseases Tested for

In many ways, this is the simplest factor when looking for STD testing online. Just like many doctors don't routinely screen for all STDs, most online sites only offer testing for a small number of infections. Common options include:

Those are the most common STDs. They are also the diseases that most people will want to be tested for. However, if you need to be tested for something more esoteric, you may be out of luck.

Type of Testing Offered

If your online testing service sends you a prescription for a blood draw and urine test at a local, professional, testing site such as Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp, that's a good sign. You'll probably be getting the same tests you'd receive at your physician's office. There will certainly be some differences. For example, you wouldn't be offered more sensitive bacterial or viral cultures. Still, there is a reasonable assurance of test quality.

On the other hand, if you're paying for the opportunity to send off a sample in the mail to an undisclosed location, things are more questionable. There's less certainty about the quality of the test. You can't even be certain that the kit you've ordered will arrive in the mail.

Tests performed on mailed-in samples can give accurate results; however, you don't know what test the company will run. In addition, there's less of a guarantee that you'll provide a high-quality sample. There's also the possibility of degradation in the mail. Finally, there's the potential for outright fraud. That's why, if you're going to use a mail-in kit, check out online STD test reviews. It's a good idea to look for one provided or recommended by a clearly reputable organization, such as a local or national health department.

How You Get Your Results

Another thing you have to consider is how your results will be delivered. Will you have to wait for them to arrive in the mail? Call into an 800 number? Check on a webpage? There are potential issues with all of these options, including convenience, confidentiality, and reliability. Think about how easy it will be to contact the company for your results. Think about how certain you'll be that any results you're given actually belong to you.

Is Counseling or Linkage to Treatment Available?

Still, the biggest potential problem with online STD testing is what you will do with your results once you get them. Learning that you have a positive STD test can be very frightening. That's particularly true if you learn them in a vacuum. It's important that you have an informed professional whom you can reach out to for counseling about the meaning of your results.

If you test positive for an STD, you will need to understand exactly:

  • what those results mean
  • whether further testing is needed
  • how to handle a diagnosis and access treatment

If you get negative results, you should be counseled about:

  • any ongoing risk
  • how often you need to be re-tested
  • how to protect yourself in the future

It's not quite as simple as a "positive result means you have an STD" and a "negative result means you're free-and-clear." Tests aren't perfect. They also vary in accuracy depending on the type of test used and when you may have been exposed.

Finally, there is a concern about how you will be linked to treatment if you need it after your online test. The advantage of getting tested at your doctor's office or a clinic is that treatment is immediately and easily available. When you get your results, the doctor can help you then and there. On the other hand, if you get a positive test online, you have to then reach out to find someone local who can actually give you care. Some Internet testing sites do provide links to local doctors for treatment. Others will leave you hanging in the wind.

Testing online can be convenient, but it's only step one. It's important to remember that testing is only the first step in seeking out STD care.

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