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Would You Prefer Your STD Test Results Delivered by SMS or Email?

STD Test ResultsWhen should consumer preference for using communication technology override the traditional prudence of delivering test results discreetly? For years, we’ve witnessed the proliferation of quick and dirty “psychological tests” online in noted mental health publications, complete with interpretive services that will tell you whether your child or husband has a mental disorder after responding to 6 to 10 questions. (Google “psychological test” for a sample, and look for websites you might recognize.) Here’s a more recent case in point, where a leading medical journal reports consumer preference. A July 24, 2012 study published in Telemedicine and E Health examined factors associated with the acceptability of receiving sexually transmitted disease (STD) laboratory results by text message and email among clinic attendees. A large sample of 2,719 STD clinic attendees with a median age of 26 years completed an anonymous, self-administered survey about their preferences.1 Findings showed that cell phone and text messaging were the preferred choice of regular communication with the STD clinic. Significantly fewer female subjects and those of college-level education share these views, but the results may nonetheless be indicative of growing trend where discretion and privacy are overridden by convenience by the younger generations. The report concluded: “The acceptability of receiving STD laboratory results electronically may facilitate test result delivery to patients and expedite treatment of infected individuals.” Detractors of this study would argue that inadequate concern is given to issues of privacy or security when reporting such fascinating findings. For those of you who attended our webinar about text messaging last month, or have taken our 3-unit CE course about text messaging, you might find it perplexing to sit with the results of the above survey. After all, there is a substantial literature already reported security violations with text messaging. Are the accompanying precautions to be disregarded by professionals because consumers prefer the benefits of communication technology? A similar dilemma for professionals can be seen in most mental health practices where clients and patients are increasingly requesting the opportunity for “Skype – therapy,” without an understanding of how such unsecured technologies can compromise the care they seek. For instance, what if a distressed patient were to receive these STD test results on an electronic device that isn’t secured, or is intercepted by an angry spouse, or nosy employer? Who will be responsible for the breach? How might the client be impacted? As our implementation of electronic tools rapidly accelerates from year to year many professionals find it dismaying to see respected sources pay short shrift potential breaches of confidentiality. If you share a concern about these issues, and how we might maximally influence the development as well as implementation of new tools for our industry, please join us in these one or both of these ways:

  1. If you are psychologist and member of the American Psychological Association, please sign our petition to form a new division at the APA to help us shape technology to our specific professional needs;
  2. If you are not a psychologist or not an APA member, please join us on LinkedIn to share conversations about the use of technology in mental health.

Reference: 1. Avnish Tripathi, Wayne A. Duffus, Patricia Kissinger, Timothy J. Brown, James J. Gibson, and Leandro A. Mena. Telemedicine and e-Health. doi:10.1089/tmj.2011.0251.

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