Remember when finding out the results of your HIV test (and, hopefully, you've been tested) took two weeks—and they were two of the most agonizing weeks of your life? Well, a testing firm now has a procedure that considerably shortens your wait—and that lets you find how if you're positive or negative for six (yes, six) other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The tSTD system is revolutionary in that the person being tested only waits up to 48 hours to find out his or her status regarding not only HIV, but six other STDs as well. I recently spoke with tSTD president and founder Chuck Dorfman about the service, which is currently only offered in northern Illinois but will be nationwide this year.
Windy City Times: What exactly is tSTD?
Chuck Dorfman: It's a business that makes it as easy as possible to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
WCT: Why did you see a need for this?
CD: I was suddenly thrust back into the single world four years ago. I found out that— like [with] everybody else in the single world —there's a lot of concern out there about [STDs]. However, it's pretty much kept as a mystery; it's something that people don't explicitly deal with until they think they have it. When you go to a doctor and say 'Hey, I'm concerned,' the best he/she can do is test you. The doctor doesn't have an answer for your partner. The real challenge is for two people to enter into a relationship knowing that they're not bringing anything extra into it. As we like to say, 'New sex partners can be a great thing. New sex partners with [STDs] are a good thing to be avoided.'
WCT: Tell me the specifics about how tSTD operates.
CD: First, we conducted research on what diseases people need to worry about. About 25 diseases are characterized as 'sexually transmitted,' but only seven are prevalent and dangerous enough where you'd want to be screened for them prior to entering a relationship: HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, genital herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia.
Second: What's the state of medical testing for those seven diseases? For example, less than two years ago you couldn't test for chlamydia or gonorrhea without a culture. The good news is now these diseases can be tested using only blood and urine.
Our goal was to be able to test people and have a very high accuracy rate. This means you want to get as few false positives as possible. There are two companies that dominate the medical testing landscape and we're contracted with those businesses to provide very accurate testing.
The third piece involved developing a mechanism to quickly process the testing. Then, there's also responsibility. You can't just tell someone over the Internet that he contracted hepatitis C. You could, but that's just irresponsible. It's important to get results to people as soon as possible. People who are contemplating having sex with someone are generally in a hurry.
WCT: Go figure.
CD: Go figure. The good news is that we can process people and give them results in 48 hours. The tricky parts of creating the process involved our ability to take an order over the phone or Internet and having the right counselors for questions. Thankfully, our roots are in technology consulting so building the systems to do all of that came fairly naturally. Also, we were able to contract with a company that is very experienced when it comes to [STD] counseling.
WCT: Now, this test costs $229 and is not covered by insurance, correct?
WCT: So if someone can't afford this test, what other options are there?
CD: We have some of these options listed on our Web site www.tstd.org . There are public organizations; for example, the Chicago Department of Public Health has several testing facilities. Planned Parenthood has testing facilities. You normally have to wait 14 days and make two physical visits to [complete the process]. The trick is then that you have to know what you wanted to be tested for.
We're a bit of a 'bottled water' solution. It's nothing new but it's an important repackaging that fits peoples' lifestyles. The most important part of our service is that two people can get tested together and reliably share their results with each other. Let's face it: If you're going to engage with a new sex partner, you'd rather not take their word for their results. This system lets you confidentially share your results with another person.
It's important for people to know that we're not the end of the process if you're positive, but the beginning. This is a panel of screening tests. If you test positive for something or think you already have an STD, you definitely should consult a physician. The flip side is that most people who carry STDs don't know it. What we're trying to do is pretty simple: take testing from early detection all the way to prevention. Eventually, we'd like it to be like a pregnancy test.
WCT: Do you want to make the test an over-the-counter thing?
CD: Well, we're looking for every way to make it better, faster, and cheaper. Right now, the blood withdrawal is something you want a medical professional to do. However, we're dedicated to driving down the cost and driving up the availability.
WCT: So, I would call the number ...
CD: You call the number [888-TSTD-NOW] or log onto the Web site. We'd take your order—but no personal information (such as your name or address). We need your credit card information, which is not kept with your record. We then give you a 13-digit personal identification number (PIN). That PIN is the only identifier we have for you.
Then, either online or over the phone, we help you find the nearest patient service center (PSC). You don't need to make an appointment but you do need to know their hours. You just take your PIN and walk right in. You hand your PIN to the [desk attendant]. Then, they take blood and urine samples and that's it. (The PSC visit should take no longer than 10-15 minutes.)
WCT: So a person can't bring $229 in cash or write a check?
CD: Right now, we don't have a way of taking in money besides using a credit card. Eventually, we will be able to use PayPal and other Internet payment plans.
Let me tell you about the results, because they might not be what people expect. Most of the time, when you get your results they're given in a way that's inconvenient. They're given verbally and, if you're negative, they won't call you—which doesn't really help you.
WCT: By the way, how often would you recommend someone get tested?
CD: For me, it's a matter of engaging a new partner—ˆ and, hopefully, getting your partner to do it at the same time. I think that's a decision each individual has to make on his own, though.
WCT: Is it realistic to say that someone will get tested each time he/she has a new partner?
CD: Yes, if people have two new sex partners each year. People who engage more often than that—I don't know. However, regardless, I would say that people should get tested every six months. Even if they can't prevent a disease, early detection is important. Let's face it: 15 million people catch STDs every year because we have a society that largely does not worry about disease until after the fact. We want to change that.
See www.tstd.org or call (888) TSTD-NOW.