(by John Kurucz, Coquitlam Now)
The BC Centre for Disease Control has rolled out an impersonal way of communicating what could be a very personal problem.
The provincial organization launched an online e-card service Monday that lets anyone in B.C. inform their sexual partners that they may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Users have the choice of attaching a personal message to the note, or sending it anonymously.
The BCCDC partnered with a San Francisco-based company called inSPOT to roll out the technology, which allows users to access the website and choose from a handful of different messages to send to their partners, including this one: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know I had STIs when we were together. You should get tested.”
Those messages then point the recipients in the direction of clinics to get tested at and resources to help diagnose various STI symptoms.
“For us in public health, one of the cornerstones for us in prevention for STIs is really making sure that sexual partners who’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection get tested and treated if they have the infection,” said Mark Gilbert, a physician epidemiologist with the BC Centre for Disease Control. “Ultimately, we’re trying to prevent the spread of these infections in our community and notifying partners helps to do that.”
But Simon Fraser University adjunct professor Dr. Joti Samra isn’t sold entirely.
A clinical psychologist by trade, Samra sees some benefit in opening up lines of communication around the taboo subject matter, but she worries about the potential for abuse of the online service, given the fact that users can send cards anonymously.
“I think we need to be cautious about what the potential is here,” she said. “Imagine being the recipient of something popping up and it taking a while to figure out if it’s true or accurate and not knowing where it’s coming from. That does create a lot of uncertainty.”
Gilbert acknowledged the potential for pranks, although he said those types of complaints haven’t been logged all that much in other cities.
“The greatest chance of that happening is right now, when there’s a lot of media attention,” he said. “It’ll die down, and that’s certainly been the experience with other sites. The experience in other places that have been doing inSPOT for a long time . is that they get complaints very rarely.”
Fraser Health, on the other hand, is backing the BCCDC plan through referrals and promotional materials.
“It’s a public online service, so there’s no need to even connect with a clinic to gain access,” said Fraser Health spokesperson Roy ThorpeDorward.
“But where clients that we come in contact with who we feel might benefit from the service, they’ll be referred to it and we’ll hand out the promotional materials. It’s another tool that health practitioners can use to help clients notify potential partners that they might have been exposed to an [STI].”
For more info on the ecards, visit www.inspot.org.
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