A Pricey Private Alternative to Public Health Clinics

Logo Screengrab from STDTestExpress.com

Move over public health clinics, there’s a new testing site in town. Make that 1,800 private testing sites connected through one online service. STDTestExpress, an Analyte Media product, connects customers with confidential, fast testing services with doctor consults via phone. And if public health clinics freak you out, they offer a de-stressed testing experience by using a large national testing lab.

Their product is incredibly clever: contracting with LabCorp allows for 1,800 non-STI specific testing sites. LabCorp does every kind of testing imaginable so when you walk in to hand over your blood or urine, it could be for anything from a paternity test to a  mycophenolic acid and metabolite test.

Privilege is pricey though. The lowest cost is $79 for a single Syphilis, Hep B or Hep C test. Compare this to 4 STI tests for $60 at a Michigan Planned Parenthood. The big price difference is because someone in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood might possibly know you are there for STI testing. Or a pap smear. Or condoms. Or….they’ll know you (maybe) had sex.

I ran into Dr. Charlie Glickman from Good Vibrations and mentioned the service, which I know about thanks to my friend Violet Blue. The biggest potential flaw Dr. Glickman and I saw was confidentiality because STDTestExpress is a business and businesses keep records.

I checked their site and found that they destroy test results after 90 days. This is good. What I can’t find is how they store client names in the system. Can an insurance company request client testing frequency? I have no idea, but if they do, that would be a downside to the service.

Overall, the service is a pretty smart way for the private sector to edge in on the STI testing market. A savvy business decision considering STI rates in this country and increasingly public conversations about sexual health.

But their business model is, in a weird way, hampering public discussion. Yes, you can talk to a doctor but only after a positive test. STI testing is nerve-wracking, especially if you have symptoms. Discussion should not be limited to those testing positive. Everyone should have access to a trained sexual health professional.

Their site offers information about STIs but use that all-too-familiar scare tactic.

Every day we mortal humans play Russian roulette with sex when we don’t know our STD or HIV status and don’t use condoms or dental dams every time we have sex. -“Unzipped Blog” STDTestExpress

Here a good rule of thumb about public health info: anyone comparing risk to Russian Roulette is suspect and trying to sell you something or mislead you. STDTestExpress isn’t intentionally trying to mislead. But they are trying to sell a product and advertising is all about fudging reality a bit.

Their information about oral sex is another example. Yes, unprotected oral sex is not 100% safe but it is safer than unprotected vaginal or anal sex. SF City Clinic has a great sex act and STI transmission risk chart that plays out the realities sans business-motivated distortion.

This distortion makes me wary of merging a profit-driven business model with sexual health information and dubious research claims. STDTestExpress conducted a survey that found 1 in 3 people still have sex with a partner who won’t get tested. A snip from their press release (Thanks Charlie!):

Chicago, IL, March 1, 2010 – STD Test Express, a service dedicated to educating and testing people for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), announced today the results of their annual survey of sexually active Americans.

The survey found that 1 in 3 respondents will still engage in sexual intercourse with someone who refused to take an STD test after being asked – even though a majority of those polled acknowledge “they shouldn’t”.

I scoured their site to find details on this survey. How many people polled? Where? What was the methodology? Were respondents using barrier protection when their sexual partners wouldn’t get tested?

I don’t know. Because they didn’t make the knowledge publicly available. Suspicious study.

This is not to downplay the service they offer. I think this is a great alternative for anyone with enough money and nervousness about STI testing privacy. But public health clinics have been in this game much longer and provide a sympathetic ear and honest resources when clients need it most.It makes me wonder how the already strapped public health clinics will fare competing against services like STDTestExpress.

*Personal note: really, if you have the money and aren’t afraid of being seen in the waiting room, go to a health clinic and pay 75% of the STDTestExpress cost. Or 50%. That amount of money will keep them running and provide testing services for broke-asses that balk at a $79 syphilis test price tag.

2 thoughts on “A Pricey Private Alternative to Public Health Clinics”

  1. There are a few services like this in the UK, except it’s all done postally, you are sent a sealed lab tube which you pee in and it’s then sent off for chlamydia testing. It’s a paid for service, and again it’s only convenience and avoiding a clinic that you are paying for, as in the UK STI testing is free for under 25s.

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