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Internet-Based HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infection Testing in British Columbia, Canada: Opinions and Expectations of Prospective Clients

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      The feasibility and acceptability of Internet-based sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing have been demonstrated; however, few programs have included testing for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In British Columbia, Canada, a new initiative will offer online access to chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV testing, integrated with existing clinic-based services. We presented the model to gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and existing clinic clients through a series of focus groups.


      To identify perceived benefits, concerns, and expectations of a new model for Internet-based STI and HIV testing among potential end users.


      Participants were recruited through email invitations, online classifieds, and flyers in STI clinics. A structured interview guide was used. Focus groups were audio recorded, and an observer took detailed field notes. Analysts then listened to audio recordings to validate field notes. Data were coded and analyzed using a scissor-and-sort technique.


      In total, 39 people participated in six focus groups. Most were MSM, and all were active Internet users and experienced with STI/HIV testing. Perceived benefits of Internet-based STI testing included anonymity, convenience, and client-centered control. Salient concerns were reluctance to provide personal information online, distrust of security of data provided online, and the need for comprehensive pretest information and support for those receiving positive results, particularly for HIV. Suggestions emerged for mitigation of these concerns: provide up-front and detailed information about the model, ask only the minimal information required for testing, give positive results only by phone or in person, and ensure that those testing positive are referred for counseling and support. End users expected Internet testing to offer continuous online service delivery, from booking appointments, to transmitting information to the laboratory, to getting prescriptions. Most participants said they would use the service or recommend it to others. Those who indicated they would be unlikely to use it generally either lived near an STI clinic or routinely saw a family doctor with whom they were comfortable testing. Participants expected that the service would provide the greatest benefit to individuals who do not already have access to sensitive sexual health services, are reluctant to test due to stigma, or want to take immediate action (eg, because of a recent potential STI/HIV exposure).


      Internet-based STI/HIV testing has the potential to reduce barriers to testing, as a complement to existing clinic-based services. Trust in the new online service, however, is a prerequisite to client uptake and may be engendered by transparency of information about the model, and by accounting for concerns related to confidentiality, data usage, and provision of positive (especially HIV) results. Ongoing evaluation of this new model will be essential to its success and to the confidence of its users.

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      Most cited references 33

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      Evaluating eHealth Interventions: The Need for Continuous Systemic Evaluation

      In the first in a series of three articles on evaluating eHealth, Aziz Sheikh and Lorraine Catwell outline the background to the series and discuss the importance of evaluating the widespread investments in and adoption of information communication technology in health care.
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        Factors Influencing the Use of a Web-Based Application for Supporting the Self-Care of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Longitudinal Study

        Background The take-up of eHealth applications in general is still rather low and user attrition is often high. Only limited information is available about the use of eHealth technologies among specific patient groups. Objective The aim of this study was to explore the factors that influence the initial and long-term use of a Web-based application (DiabetesCoach) for supporting the self-care of patients with type 2 diabetes. Methods A mixed-methods research design was used for a process analysis of the actual usage of the Web application over a 2-year period and to identify user profiles. Research instruments included log files, interviews, usability tests, and a survey. Results The DiabetesCoach was predominantly used for interactive features like online monitoring, personal data, and patient–nurse email contact. It was the continuous, personal feedback that particularly appealed to the patients; they felt more closely monitored by their nurse and encouraged to play a more active role in self-managing their disease. Despite the positive outcomes, usage of the Web application was hindered by low enrollment and nonusage attrition. The main barrier to enrollment had to do with a lack of access to the Internet (146/226, 65%). Although 68% (34/50) of the enrollees were continuous users, of whom 32% (16/50) could be defined as hardcore users (highly active), the remaining 32% (16/50) did not continue using the Web application for the full duration of the study period. Barriers to long-term use were primarily due to poor user-friendliness of the Web application (the absence of “push” factors or reminders) and selection of the “wrong” users; the well-regulated patients were not the ones who could benefit the most from system use because of a ceiling effect. Patients with a greater need for care seemed to be more engaged in long-term use; highly active users were significantly more often medication users than low/inactive users (P = .005) and had a longer diabetes duration (P = .03). Conclusion Innovations in health care will diffuse more rapidly when technology is employed that is simple to use and has applicable components for interactivity. This would foresee the patients’ need for continuous and personalized feedback, in particular for patients with a greater need for care. From this study several factors appear to influence increased use of eHealth technologies: (1) avoiding selective enrollment, (2) making use of participatory design methods, and (3) developing push factors for persistence. Further research should focus on the causal relationship between using the system’s features and actual usage, as such a view would provide important evidence on how specific technology features can engage and captivate users.
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          Usability Testing of an Online Self-management Program for Adolescents With Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

          Background A new bilingual (English and French) Internet-based self-management program, Teens Taking Charge: Managing Arthritis Online, for adolescents with arthritis and their parents was developed following a needs assessment. Objectives This study explored the usability (user performance and satisfaction) of the self-management program for youth with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and their parents to refine the health portal prototype. Methods A qualitative study design with semi-structured, audio taped interviews and observation by a trained observer was undertaken with two iterative cycles to determine the usability (ease of use, efficiency, errors, and user satisfaction) of the user interface and content areas of the intervention. A purposive sample of English-speaking (n = 11; mean age = 15.4, standard deviation [SD] 1.7) and French-speaking (n = 8; mean age = 16.0, SD 1.2) adolescents with JIA and one of their respective parents/caregivers were recruited from 2 Canadian tertiary care centers. Descriptive statistics and simple content analyses were used to organize data into categories that reflected the emerging usability themes. Results All of the participants had access to a computer/Internet at home; however, adolescents were more comfortable using the computer/Internet than their parents. Adolescents and parents provided similar as well as differing suggestions on how the website user interface could be improved in terms of its usability (navigation; presentation and control usage errors; format and layout; as well as areas for further content development). There were no major differences in usability issues between English- and French-speaking participants. Minor changes to the website user interface were made and tested in a second cycle of participants. No further usability problems were identified in the second iterative cycle of testing. Teens and parents responded positively to the appearance and theme of the website (ie, promoting self-management) and felt that it was easy to navigate, use, and understand. Participants felt that the content was appropriate and geared to meet the unique needs of adolescents with JIA and their parents as well as English- and French-speaking families. Many participants responded that the interactive features (discussion board, stories of hope, and video clips of youth with JIA) made them feel supported and “not alone” in their illness. Conclusions We describe the usability testing of a self-management health portal designed for English- and French-speaking youth with arthritis and their parents, which uncovered several usability issues. Usability testing is a crucial step in the development of self-management health portals to ensure that the various end users (youth and parents) have the ability to access, understand, and use health-related information and services that are delivered via the Internet and that they are delivered in an efficient, effective, satisfying, and culturally competent manner.

            Author and article information

            1simpleBC Centre for Disease Control Vancouver, BCCanada
            2simpleFaculty of Health Sciences simpleSimon Fraser University Burnaby, BCCanada
            3simpleSchool of Population and Public Health simpleUniversity of British Columbia Vancouver, BCCanada
            J Med Internet Res
            J. Med. Internet Res
            Journal of Medical Internet Research
            Gunther Eysenbach (JMIR Publications Inc., Toronto, Canada )
            Mar-Apr 2012
            06 March 2012
            : 14
            : 2
            (Editor), (Reviewer), (Reviewer), (Reviewer), (Reviewer), (Reviewer),
            ©Travis Salway Hottes, Janine Farrell, Mark Bondyra, Devon Haag, Jean Shoveller, Mark Gilbert. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (, 06.03.2012.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

            Original Paper


            hiv, human immunodeficiency virus, sexually transmitted diseases


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