At-home testing kits have made it super easy for people to find out their STD status without needing to step out of their homes. However, there is a growing concern about the accuracy of at-home STD testing kits, given that these kits effectively take healthcare providers out of the equation.
At-home, STD testing kits provide surprisingly accurate results. The accuracy of any diagnostic test is measured through its specificity and sensitivity. Any diagnostic tool that has over 90% in both sensitivity and specificity parameters is deemed highly accurate for the diagnosis of a particular disease. Most at-home STD testing kits have both of these parameters in the high 80s and even the 90th percentile. This means that most at-home STD testing kits are highly accurate at weeding out the false negative cases from the true positives, giving an accurate diagnosis more than 90% of the time.
The question of whether at-home STD testing kits work or not is easy to answer. However, it should be noted that no matter how accurate these diagnostic kits get they do not function as a replacement or an alternative to a healthcare provider.
DO AT-HOME TEST KITS WORK?
At-home, STD testing kits are designed to bring the entire STD diagnosis process into one tiny testing kit that can be used at home by individuals to test their own STD status. These diagnostic tools make it possible for people to know their STD status without going to a doctor, and they are also extremely easy to use.
Most at-home testing kits come with a tool to help take the required sample from an individual, a machine that analyzes the sample, and an output mechanism that returns the corresponding result. Other STD testing kits come with a sample collection tool and the sample, once taken, then needs to be mailed to a testing facility which then mails the STD result back to the individual. Alternatively, the result can also be received online.
The accuracy of at-home testing kits is determined by their sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity is how good a diagnostic test is at determining the true positive cases of a disease, i.e. people who actually have the disease. Specificity, on the other hand, measures how good a diagnostic tool is at finding out the true negative cases of a disease, i.e. the people who do not have it.
A high sensitivity measure indicates that the diagnostic tool will return accurate testing results for people who have the disease more often than not. A high specificity measure indicates that the diagnostic tool will return fewer, or possibly none, false positive results.
Surprisingly, STD at-home testing kits are highly accurate as most of them have high sensitivity and specificity. For example, most at-home HIV testing kits have a 92% sensitivity and a 99% specificity, meaning that the test will return an accurate result almost all the time that it’s used.
However, at-home testing kits are not just available for STDs. At-home, Covid-19 testing kits are also available, which are also highly reliable. However, it is important to know that we cannot assume that all testing kits are accurate.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF AT-HOME TESTING KITS
While at-home testing kits provide numerous benefits for people who are simply looking to diagnose their problems from the comfort of their homes, they do carry their fair share of disadvantages.
At-home testing kits make it very convenient for people to test their disease status at-home. However, this potential benefit is also the biggest drawback as more and more people become increasingly drawn to testing their own symptoms and subsequently treating them on their own as well.
The notion that at-home testing kits propel, i.e. that these kits eliminate the need to go to a doctor for diagnosis, is worrying because a healthcare professional can always correlate clinical symptoms with a diagnostic tool to provide a better result. At-home testing kits take out this physician-validation of the final result out of the equation.
At-home testing kits, no matter how accurate, are still diagnostic tools that are prone to failure every now and then. Even if a testing kit returns true positive results with a 99% sensitivity, the remaining 1% of the time people will still get a false result which can be problematic. Moreover, like any other machine, at-home diagnostic tools are prone to both machine and human errors during the interpretation of the final result.
Another drawback that at-home testing kits carry is that these testing kits can be inconsistent in their function. There are many diagnostic tools available for certain diseases, and not all of these diagnostic kits work equally well. Therefore, some people may experience a higher rate of false positive results when testing for their disease status at-home.
At-home testing kits can also be expensive, and most health insurances do not cover the cost of these diagnostic tools. Therefore, these at-home testing kits simply translate to more out-of-pocket expenditure for the patients.
DO I STILL NEED TO GO TO A DOCTOR IF I TAKE AN AT-HOME STD TEST?
No matter how accurate at-home testing kits become, they cannot replace the need for consulting a physician for your symptoms to reach an accurate diagnosis. Healthcare professionals evaluate the final result of any given diagnostic tool in correlation with a patient’s symptoms, which machines cannot. An accurate assessment of a patient’s symptoms, coupled with a detailed history can help reach an accurate diagnosis more times than an at-home diagnostic tool can.
Moreover, reaching out to a healthcare professional for your symptoms also provides the benefit of receiving valuable guidance about what to do next. The healthcare professional may start you on a treatment regime that cures your ailment in case you do get a positive test result for a certain disease. Your doctor may also help you reach out to various organizations that can help you with your new diagnosis so that your quality of life may improve.
It is worth mentioning that at-home testing kits are valuable tools that provide many benefits to individuals who are just not ready to talk about their symptoms with other people, even their doctor. However, the need to consult a medical professional about your symptoms does not get eliminated when you use at-home testing kits. Therefore, it is always a wise decision to keep your doctor informed about your disease status, your test results, and the symptoms you are experiencing so that they may help you battle your new diagnosis as efficiently as possible.