Health

STD test results? There's an app for that.

Zoë Klar, 23, of Los Angeles says she likes the idea of an app that lets her share her STD status with potential partners.
Zoë Klar, 23, of Los Angeles says she likes the idea of an app that lets her share her STD status with potential partners.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Zoë Klar, 23, of Los Angeles says she likes the idea of an app that lets her share her STD status with potential partners.
Healthvana CEO Ramin Bastani demonstrates how to "unzip" your STD test results.
Rebecca Plevin/KPCC
Zoë Klar, 23, of Los Angeles says she likes the idea of an app that lets her share her STD status with potential partners.
Zoë Klar, 23, of Los Angeles has used both Tinder and OkCupid for online dating.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Zoë Klar, 23, of Los Angeles says she likes the idea of an app that lets her share her STD status with potential partners.
Justin Fabillar spends time with friends at Little Joy in Silver Lake. Fabillar has used different dating apps, and said he would be open to using something like the Healthvana STD app.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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Ramin Bastani's idea was born out of an awkward evening.

Bastani met a girl that he liked, and invited her home. They were making their way from the couch to the bedroom when the girl sensed something was awry.

Bastani recalls that she asked if he was hesitating because he had a sexually transmitted disease.

"So before I could actually respond, she stepped away and said, 'oh my god, yes you do, you have an STD or something!'" he said. "And I was like, 'no, no, no, I'm just afraid that you might.'"

Bastani says his response didn't go over well.

"She slapped me in the face and walked out of the room," he says. "And I remember sitting there thinking, 'there's got to be a better way.'"

That was about 10 years ago. Bastani kept thinking about it, and then in 2010, he had his light-bulb moment. He launched his company, Healthvana, which allows customers to request their STD test results with an iPhone app or online, and share them with potential partners.

He recently demonstrated how to use the app at his West Hollywood office. To share his records, he invites a potential partner to slide a finger down the screen and "unzip" his profile. That reveals his latest test results – negative for chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV.

"So, by me showing you my results, hopefully that's saying that I care about my health, and you'll be willing to share them with me as well, in a totally private and confidential way," Bastani says.

For those who are HIV positive, the app will show their viral load – the level of HIV in their blood. For those who test positive for an STD, Healthvana disables the sharing function. Once they have been treated and re-tested, they can share their most recent results.

Bastani says the big innovation is that not only can Healthvana users share their test results with the person next to them; they can also share them with people they've never met.

Some share through text messages. Some are sharing on dating sites. Bastani points out that even at that point, you can conceal your true identity with a username.

He says all this encourages more frequent STD testing.

"They just put a link and say something like: Recent HIV and STD testing by way of this link, bonus points if you have it, too," he says.

Parents of 20- and 30-somethings might cringe at the idea of broadcasting STD test results. So does Joe Paulini, the CEO of Chexout, one of Healthvana's competitors. Chexout lets the customer view test results through an online portal, but it doesn't allow sharing. 

"Why you would want to have that out there on someone else's device, I have no idea," Paulini says.

But Bastani says a lot of young singles who have found his app are using it in that way. And an unscientific survey of a dozen patrons at Sunset Beer in Echo Park seemed to back up his claim.

Bar-goer Zoe Klar, 23, says it's a delicate topic, but sharing STD status is important. "If that means publicly putting it on a dating profile, I think that's a good way to get the conversation going," Klar says.

Public health officials have worried that dating apps could make it easier to spread STDs. So some are welcoming apps like Healthvana, which is one of several similar products on the market.

Matthew Beymer is an epidemiologist at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. He's a big fan of the STD apps and he encourages those who are developing dating apps to incorporate STD results and sexual health.

"We don't want to stigmatize these apps, we just really want to have health as part of the general overall conversation surrounding these apps," he said.

The companies making the STD apps agree. They say they're not trying to promote casual sex, they're just trying to help people avoid getting sick.

They might point to Stefan's story as a case-in-point. Stefan, who asked that his last name be withheld, lives in San Francisco and uses dating apps.

He remembers one time he sent a prospective partner a link to his Healthvana profile, which showed he had no STDs. He asked the woman to send back a link to her test results.

"The day we were supposed to meet, she didn't respond, and I thought 'oh, she flaked, another flake,'" he recalls. "And later on, we talked, and she got the results back, and she had HIV."

Stefan says the woman may never have found out she had HIV if he hadn't used his STD app.