Planned Parenthood launched a pilot program for at-home STD testing in California this week. It allows women (and men!) to be screened to for chlamydia and gonorrhea without physically going to a clinic.
The service, which is similar to app programs already in use in Minnesota and Washington state, is called Planned Parenthood Direct. Patients order a discreet at-home testing kit using their mobile phones, then send urine samples back through the mail. If they test positive, the app can send a prescription to a local pharmacy or recommend an appointment at a nearby clinic.
The app is free to download, and users can charge the $149 STD test kit to a credit or debit card via the app. For individuals who can’t afford to pay, free STD testing is still available in brick-and-mortar Planned Parenthood locations.
“These apps are about expanding access to the economic, educational and health benefits that come along with access to quality reproductive health care,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement.
The infections the app tests for — chlamydia and gonorrhea — are the two most commonly reported sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. and don’t always manifest symptoms. Individuals sometimes go for years without realizing they are infected. In 2013, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia and 333,004 reported cases of gonorrhea, though the CDC estimates that the actual infection rate for gonorrhea is more than double that number.
Undiagnosed STDs can have painful consequences. Approximately 24,000 women in the U.S. will become infertile because of STDs each year, and mother-to-child transmissions can result in birth defects.
While technology is not a substitute for regular checkups from your doctor, it could help reach individuals who otherwise aren’t receiving any health care. “It’s so important for women, men and young people who need high-quality health care to be able to access it in a way that meets them where they are and allows them to get the services they need,” Jill Balderson, vice president of health care innovation at Planned Parenthood, told The Huffington Post.
So far, there’s no definitive answer about whether or not health insurance policies in California will cover such telehealth visits.
“It’s important that insurance policies … don’t arbitrarily limit the types of technology a provider or patient can use when getting care,” Balderson told HuffPost.