Case study: SH:24

I have to start by admitting that I’m a little obsessed with SH:24 – an award-winning, free online sexual health service, delivered in partnership with the NHS and funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. They are a fantastic example of how technology can be harnessed to work alongside place based clinics to improve health services.

What they do

SH:24 provide free and confidential STI testing that you can access 24 hours a day. You can order a home test kit that arrives in a plain envelope and then send back blood and swab samples for your results. They have simple illustrated instructions and great online videos to help you take the tests yourself.

You then get your results by text message within 7 days of sending back your samples. If you have an infection, SH:24 will advise you on how to get treatment and offer further support. In certain areas of the UK they can also post out treatment and provide contraception.

Their vision is to make it easier and faster for people to access sexual and reproductive health and services, no matter where they live in the UK.

Why we like it

The service completely rethinks the relationship with people who use the service. It doesn’t insist they go to a physical ‘service space’. There are no opening times as it is available 24 hours a day. It trusts people to take their own tests, assumes they are capable and provides guidence to help. Communication is through text messaging and online. Control is very much in the hands of the person using the service and they self-manage their own health.

I first came across SH:24 at a digital health event in Lambeth. Their idea seemed so simple, and so necessary in today’s technology reliant culture, coupled with the increasing demand for sexual health services.

Part of the success of their service is that it is co-designed around people’s needs by users, clinicians and experts. They conducted early workshops with local people to understand their lifestyles and attitudes to sexual health; tested prototypes with users in clinics and used Twitter polls to seek mass feedback. They have worked hard to understand what users want and need to feel confident trusting a remote service.

The need for a different type of sexual health service is clear. 34% of SH:24’s users have never visited a clinic before. And 95% of users choose to receive postal chlamydia treatment over a clinic visit. This is a different, quick way to access sexual health services and get advice and treatment. I wonder if the same thinking could be applied to other clinical services. We often hear that outpatient departments were created over a century ago and the time is ripe for a new model. The team behind SH:24 seem to have found it.

If you want to know more

SH:24 currently deliver STI testing, remote Chlamydia treatment and oral contraception in Lambeth and Southwark. And they provide STI testing in Medway, Telford & Wrekin, Essex, Hereford, Worcestershire and Shopshire.

For more information visit their website https://sh24.org.uk/, follow their regular blog or email sh24.info@nhs.net

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