A new service has partnered with a Los Angeles school district – the second largest in the country – to not only deliver STD results by text message, but also to promote the idea children share their “status” as easily as they share the highlight of their day on Facebook. But when it comes to children having sex, it’s never quite that simple now is it?
Qpid.me is the brainchild of Ramin Bastani and operates from the following premise: “We believe that sharing is a good thing and that it can lead to better sexual health decisions, more (safe) sex and fewer STDs.” Bastani went on to tell CNN in an interview: “If it’s cool for a beauty queen to share her STD status [Qpid.me’s celebrity sponsor is Tamie Farrell, Miss California 2009], then maybe kids will start to think it’s cool to share their own results. We want to normalize the idea of sharing your status.”
The process is fairly straightforward. Qpid.me requests patient test results from health clinics (with patient permission, of course) then transmits those results via text, email, and provides access to their online site. The concept of delivering STD results electronically is not necessarily new, or controversial. The danger lies in convincing children there are no concerns about sharing such private information among peers who may not respect their privacy, or, worse may shame them for contracting curable diseases.
Since 2004 sexual health clinics in the United Kingdom have experimented with delivering text messages to patients for both negative and positive test results. The feedback from both patients and clinical staff was noticeably positive. Previously staff would spend up to 120 hours a month contacting patients to deliver mostly negative results that required no follow-up. For those patients who had positive results the delay in contact (prior to the text message-based system) also delayed treatment and increased both the likelihood of complications and that the infection would spread.
Roughly half of the Los Angeles Unified District’s 660,000 students –some as young as age 13 — have been taught in sex education classes how to retrieve their STD status, share it with a partner, and request it prior to engaging in sexual activity. Unfortunately children in Los Angeles County are in a hurry to have a lot of sex, and apparently they’re not making time to use protection either. CNN notes that in 2011 children between ages 13 and 19 accounted for a quarter of the chlamydia cases and 16% of the gonorrhea cases, according to the Los Angeles County Health Department.
It’s clear there is an epidemic among our youth, and it’s conceivable that delivering STD results via text, e-mail, and mobile apps could stem this tide. But at what cost socially and emotionally? This may promote a false sense of security, leading children to believe a negative STD test taken weeks ago means that a person is still negative. (Though accurate detection depends on a host of variables including the STD testing window).
Can you imagine the rampant embarrassment and “slut shaming” if the information were to leak out (whether purposefully or by accident)? The STD epidemic among children is real, however this solution is definitely not the right one.
John S. Wilson is a health policy analyst focused on long term care and digital health. His work frequently appears in Forbes, CNN, Black Enterprise and the Huffington Post. He is also a Digital Health advisor to the NewMe Accelerator, a start-up tech incubator for minority entrepreneurs. John may be reached on Twitter: @johnwilson.