Allowing teenagers as young as 13 to share their STD status with whomever they choose, including via their cellphones, puts a whole new spin on the concept of sexting.
Already, the Los Angeles school district is giving 7th and 9th grade health teachers the option of introducing students to the free service, Qpid.me.
It works like this: Students get tested. Qpid.me directs users to fill out a records request that is sent electronically to the testing site—a doctor's office or designated clinic—which releases the results to the student (with a small chance the doc won't comply).
While the service is available to anyone 13 and older, California law is especially kind to such a concept: It allows anyone 12 or older to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases without involving parents. (North Carolina has been considering a bill that would require minors to get notarized permission from their parents before being tested or treated for STDs, pregnancy, substance abuse, or mental illness.)
What's the big deal about being able to share results so easily? Qpid.me CEO and founder Ramin Bastani said his company was inspired by his own experience asking a would-be sexual partner if she had any STDs. His reponse was a slap in the face.
"I said, 'There has to be a better way'," he remembers thinking.
Sharing the information via text, or just displaying it on a phone or computer screen, even before a date, would have been a lot easier, Bastani said.
And because the results come from the medical provider, it's difficult for someone to lie about their STD status, Bastani told me.
One in 15 people living in the United States who has HIV is 13 to 24 years old, and more than half of them don't know they have the disease.
In a brief piece on the company's website, Tim Kordic, who works in the the Los Angeles school district's HIV/AIDS prevention unit, endorses the Qpid model.
Here's a bit of what he wrote:
I think that to many adults, the concept of having your status mixed with technology is an unknown; not the traditional way of communicating personal information, thus dangerous. We have spoken to our most important stakeholder though, our students, and they have a different perspective. They not only want this type of resource, they are excited about it. We have the opportunity to avoid misuse and take advantage of the technology so it works for us.
Many prevention models, tools, and research lead us down a path we must take to help youth make healthier decisions. However, the delivery is just as important as the implementation plan; the interaction becomes just as important as the steps of that plan; and the communication can become one of the most important strategies and resources.
I feel that Qpid.me can meet a demand for making the delivery, interaction, and communication of information more engaging for youth and empowering them with knowledge to make better sexual health decisions.
Bastani hopes his enterprise will encourage people to get tested—and treated. People who test positive for gonorrhea and chlamydia, for example, would have their results corrected if they were treated and retested, Bastani said. Only a user's most recent test results—the clean ones—would appear if someone were to share them.
For people who do test positive for a given STD, results are nearly impossible to share, decreasing the chances someone would be bullied or victimized over them, he said.
The service doesn't include results for the human papillomavirus, or HPV—some strains of which can cause cervical and other cancers, or results for herpes, on purpose. The reasons: Many people who carry a strain of HPV feel no ill effects and the virus disappears on its own, without any treatment. And the results of herpes testing can mean many different things.
Positive HIV results would appear—but with context about someone's viral load—the level of HIV virus in his or her blood. (Magic Johnson's is really low. It's part of why he's so healthy despite having been diagnosed with HIV years ago.)
The service will also help users find testing sites and feature reviews, and remind them when it's time to get tested again. In the future, Bastani said users could see sales pitches from clinics or other ads to generate revenue.
There's sure to be some reaction from the various sex education contingents vary from abstinence-only and more comprehensive approaches. And other school districts may have a very different view than Los Angeles did on even introducing teachers to the service. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Bastani, 37, hasn't seen the potential hook-up who led him to create Qpid.me in eight years. He said he's happily dating someone else. But the question of whether a partner has STDs will always apply to him, and everyone else, he said.
"It's applicable to anyone that has sex. They know you're supposed to ask someone or be tested. This makes it a lot simpler. You still have to get tested," he said. "We make (sharing the results) suck less."
On another note about the health care of students in the Los Angeles district, this report about a lack of available services is brand new. It's asking for major improvements to the wellness center at Esteban E. Torres High School.