How New STD App Might Change Safe Sex Practices

PHOTO: The Healthvana app helps make STD and HIV testing process easy according to their web site.Healthvana
The Healthvana app helps make STD and HIV testing process easy according to their web site.

When it comes to sex with a new partner, safety can be a huge concern –- but what if proving you're free of sexually transmitted diseases could be as easy as showing your partner your results on a smartphone?

California-based company Healthvana's goal is for people to have easy access to their own health records, including their STD results. They partnered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to create a service that sends patients' results from the laboratory right to your smartphone, via their website or an app.

"It's no different if you went to the doctor and got a printout and showed [your partner] that," Healthvana founder Ramin Bastani told ABC News. "It's a digital version of, 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours.'"

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The problem is that getting that hard copy from the doctor isn't so easy, Bastani said.

"If I want to go back and get my record, it is such a nightmare," he said. "It's hard to get someone on the phone. And if I go back to the clinic, I wait in line for an hour plus, just like everyone else, just to see someone and maybe get the records. And the whole time I am anxious and nervous."

And many times when people get tested for STDs, they're told they will only hear back if the news is bad.

"We want to eradicate that idea that no news is good news," Bastani said.

Whitney Engeran, the head of public health at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told ABC News that the app, which delivers chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV results, helps both patients and their doctors.

"It allows us to move faster with our patients and gives them a lot of quick information," he said. "Because right now if they're negative, we don't necessarily call them –- because we see so many people, we really only call them if they’re positive."

He says the app complies with patient privacy regulations known as HIPAA because users must enter into a secure portal through the app before receiving their results, and no private information is sent through email. Patient records are "located in a secure data center" and only a limited number of Healthvana employees have access to the information, Engeran said.

The Healthvana app launched earlier this summer without the instant record feature. That's being tested in three locations in Florida, through the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Engeran said the foundation wants to roll out the updated app nationwide within the next two months.

Bastani estimates that a few thousand people are already using the instant record feature.

Through the app, users will also be able to easily share their medical records with new doctors, or they can share their results electronically with a potential sex partner who also downloads the app.

Michael Kaplan, president of the charity AIDS United, told ABC News he thinks any app that helps people share their STD results is a great idea.

"What I can tell you as someone who tested HIV-positive back in 1992, with clarity that I wanted my past partners to know, is that my only option back then was calling them -- it wasn't even Facebook or social media," he said.

But he cautions that the app will have to be secure.

"There's always a concern, with credit cards, with other apps, of data getting out," Kaplan said.

Art Caplan, head of the medical ethics department at New York University, said he agrees privacy concerns are an issue, and also worries the app could lead to careless decisions.

"You don't want something like this to make people feel like they don't have anything to be worried about," Caplan said, pointing out that lab results aren't always 100% accurate, and users have no way of knowing what someone has been up to since their last test.

Bastani says he knows the app can't definitively prove a user is "clean," as it will only reveal the results of your most recent test. But, he said, it does show a potential sex partner that you care about your sexual health.

The app is free and does not have ads. It is funded by investors. Healthvana sells the platform to health care providers like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.