Certainly among the most socially awkward health topics are sexually transmitted diseases.
Nobody really wants to talk about them, some may feel reluctant to bring up the topic even with their doctor, and as a consequence people often delay seeking treatment, which leaves them at greater risk of not only getting sicker but also of spreading the condition to their partners.
Now, a new company, STD Triage, offers an iOS/web app where a person concerned by a rash in the genital area can photograph the rash with his or her iPhone and submit it to a panel of dermatologists who will respond within 24 hours with an assessment.
“A typical case is when an embarrassed man married five years with only his wife as a partner notices a genital rash,” said founder Dr. Alexander Börve.
“He contacts us at 11 am on a Sunday morning. He sends us a photo anonymously, and within four hours he has an answer–'it look like genital herpes, which can have been a latent virus from years ago, and could be triggered now by many factors including stress. You should see a doctor for confirmation and treatment.’”
Börve stresses this is not a diagnosis and the communication does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship.
The app is free, and submitting the photo is free. When STD Triage enters an answer, you push a “pay” button to trigger an in-app purchase, which costs $9.99. Because Apple does not share user identities with vendors, that preserves the anonymity of the exchange.
(Other payment options, such as Google Checkout and PayPal, do not protect user passwords and other identifying data from vendors, so STD Triage takes further in-house steps to protect that data from the view of its dermatologists.)
The service, which just launched this week in San Francisco, has been developed by iDoc24, an online health service based in Sweden.
Börve is currently based here, pursuing a doctorate at U-C, Berkeley.
"Dermatologists say they usually know within ten seconds of looking at a photo of the rash what it most likely is,” he explains. “If they aren't sure then they want to take a biopsy.“
Börve likens his new service as “in between a Google search and going to a doctor.”
It can routinely take weeks or longer to get a dermatology appointment in the US.
In Europe, it’s even worse – an average wait of three months in Sweden, six months in the U.K., and up to 16 months in Ireland, he says.
Since the consequences of waiting can be severe, as noted above, STD Triage would appear to present a viable alternative. The company is planning to integrate a US government database to help users identify the nearest clinic for treating STDs.
According to government research, up to one in two sexually active young people in this country may contract an STD by the age of 25.