Sexual health is important for building a healthy society. Many STIs are rising, yet funding for services has reduced, and care itself can be expensive – especially at the point of late diagnosis.
As a result, services are challenged to find new ways to deliver care, including online postal self-sampling (OPSS), whereby people order a kit online, take their own sample at home and post it to a lab to be tested. The hope is that these online services are cost effective while increasing access to testing, particularly among groups most at risk. If so, this would have the added benefit of reducing existing health inequalities, reducing stigma and helping focus resources more effectively.
ASSIST (Assessing the impact of online self-sampling for STIs and HIV) is a 39-month study aiming to:
- assess the impact of online postal self-sampling (OPSS) services for STIs and HIV on health inequalities, access to care, clinical and economic outcomes;
- identify the factors that influence the implementation and sustainability of OPSS services.
It will focus on three areas (London, Birmingham and Devon) with the aim of capturing an inclusive sample of the population. Researchers will look at key documents (relating to planning and providing OPSS), interview service users and staff, and consider national, clinic and online service data.
Alongside this, there will be an economic evaluation. Analysing all this information together will enable researchers to understand the benefits and challenges of online postal self-sampling, and the work required for implementing, integrating and embedding online postal self-sampling services into routine practice.