Home kits vs walk in labs vs OTC sexual health testing - Here’s everything you need to know

 

Here’s everything you need to know about sexual health screening via home kits, walk in labs and over the counter sexual health testing.

Traditionally, the only way to undergo a sexual health screening was to visit your doctor’s office. Now, you can receive a home kit in the post, visit a walk in lab or go to your local pharmacy for an over the counter option.

Are you wondering which is the best method for screening your sexual health?

When it comes to deciding on the best testing route for you, there are a number of things you will need to take into consideration. Let’s dive into the pros, cons, average costs and things to think about when it comes to taking a home kit, attending a walk in lab or testing via an over the counter method.

First things first, when should you get an STD test?

You should undergo sexual health screening if:

  • You have had unprotected sex with an infected partner.
  • You are experiencing unusual symptoms that could indicate you have an STD.
  • You would like to have sex without using a condom with a new partner.
  • You would like to confirm that a previous STD has been cleared.
  • Your current or previous partner has received notification that they have an STD.
  • You have not received a sexual health screening in more than a year.
  • You would like to conceive in the near future.

At this point, you may be wondering “what is the difference between home kits, walk in labs and over the counter options?”

Home kits

Sexual health screening via home kits is a relatively new method of testing but it has proven to be effective. New advances in science and technology have made it possible to receive a full sexual health screening, all from the comfort of your home.

There are a growing number of providers in the at home sexual health testing space that offer tailored testing options to consumers.

While it is important to put the research ahead of taking a home kit, there are plenty of benefits that largely outweigh any drawbacks.

According to a recent peer-reviewed study entitled “Screening for STIs at Home or in the Clinic?” published by the NCBI, at home sexual health testing has been shown as an effective method of breaking down barriers in terms of accessibility, cost, and convenience. In fact the arrival of sexual health screening via home kits has ensured that a significantly larger volume of people are undergoing testing in the United States.

The findings from the study conclude that: “Improvements in screening rates for sexually transmitted infections can be achieved with home-based screening methods. Making low-cost home test kits available may encourage at-risk young individuals with less access to clinic care, who may not otherwise be screened, to self-test for sexually transmitted infections.”

So, what’s involved with using a home kit to test for sexually transmitted diseases?

  • Home kits can easily be ordered online, they will include the tools necessary to take a sample. The sample required could be blood, urine, an oral, vaginal or rectal swab, depending on which STD you are testing for.
  • The person who has ordered the test will proceed to collect their samples and mail them back to the home kit provider in the mail.
  • Once the samples have been tested in the lab, the person who took the test will receive test results which will tell them if they have tested positive or negative for a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Depending on the provider of the test, the person who took the test may or may not receive a treatment plan and further insight into the next steps they should be taking.

For a full breakdown on what each home kit provider offers patients, read: What is the best at home STD test?

We analyzed the most common sexual health home kit providers so you wouldn’t have to, here are the insights you need to know on average accuracy rates, turnaround times and costs.

How accurate are home kits?

Before delving into accuracy of home kits, it’s important to know the difference between specificity and sensitivity.

  • Specificity refers to how often a person who is infected tests positive for a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Sensitivity refers to how often a person who is not infected tests negative for a sexually transmitted disease.

According to Innerbody, home kits range between a specificity of 95% to 98% and sensitivity of 98% to 99%.

When it comes to home kits, accuracy will depend on how efficiently the sample is collected and shipped back to the lab. In simple terms, for accurate results, instructions will need to be followed carefully, but the overall accuracy of home testing matches that of a traditional setting.

When choosing your home kit provider, it’s essential to look out for terms like “FDA approved tests” or “FDA approved laboratory tests”. Other accreditations to look out for include CLIA certified and CAP accredited. These certifications ensure that your test results are meeting the industry standards for clinical laboratory testing.

What is the average turnaround time for home kits? 

2-10 business days

What is the average cost of home kits? 

$24-$524

What are the advantages of home kits? 

  • Home kits are convenient as those taking them don’t need to leave the home to take the test.
  • Home kits can be a more cost effective method of testing as the costs involved generally include the price of the test, and potential treatment, visiting a clinical setting may include a number of consultations if a follow up is needed as well as the cost of the treatment plan.
  • Home kits offer more privacy for those who would prefer not to visit a clinical setting.
  • Home kits offer accessibility for those who cannot get time off work or live far away from their primary healthcare provider.
  • Home kits can be more tailored to you as you can choose either to test for one or more STDs depending on your needs.

What are the disadvantages of home kits?

  • Home kits may be a confusing option for those who are unsure about when to get tested as well as incubation periods. Read STD symptoms in men and STD symptoms in women to learn more about when you should get tested.
  • If samples are not collected and shipped back as per the provider’s specific instructions, it can add a more lengthy waiting time to receiving your results.

Overall, home kits are the best option for those who are looking for convenience, privacy, cost effectiveness and a fast turnaround, however, it is important to do the research ahead of making a purchase.

 

Walk in labs

man working in a lab


Walk in labs require the person taking the test to order their desired STD test online and then to visit a local lab.

Health Testing Centers is just one example of a large volume of walk in labs throughout the United States.

Once you have ordered your test, you simply print your confirmation and visit the lab, it is recommended that those undergoing a screening make an appointment though this is not necessary.

At a walk in lab, your sample will be collected by a health professional. Once collected, your samples will be analyzed and your results will be available to view online within 1-2 days on average.

How accurate are walk in labs? 

Walk-in labs use the same methodology as healthcare providers, meaning that you can expect the same accuracy as you would from visiting a clinical setting. As home kit providers use the same accredited labs, the level of accuracy would be the same, sitting at 95-98%.

How much do walk in labs cost?

$150-$360+

What is the turnaround time at a walk in lab?

1-2 days, though some may take longer depending on the type of test you are taking.

What are the advantages of a walk in lab?

  • For those who are looking for a quick face to face interaction, the walk in lab acts as the in between taking a home kit and visiting your healthcare provider.

What are the disadvantages of a walk in lab?

  • Walk-in labs are the most expensive option outside of visiting a healthcare provider and in comparison to home kits and over the counter methods.
  • For those who don’t live near to a walk in lab, it would not be a convenient option.
  • Lab results from a walk-in lab may take longer than at at home kit or an over the counter option.


Over the counter 

Prescriptions sign

Over the counter sexual health screening options will often involve purchasing an STD test in a retail location, and either having a consultation, taking the test and receiving a treatment plan if necessary with a clinician on site, for example the CVS Minute Clinic, or it could involve purchasing the test and receiving advice and insight on how to take the test from home.

How accurate are over the counter STD testing options?

Over the counter options generally offer the same level of accuracy as home kits or walk in labs, as the tests you purchase over the counter will usually be the same brand as the home kits sold online or those available through walk in labs. Additionally the over the counter testing options generally go to the same accredited laboratories, though it is important to fact check this, and look out for the buzzwords we described earlier, such as “FDA approved”, “CLIA certified” and “CAP accredited”.

What is the turnaround time for over the counter STD testing options? 

2-10 business days

What is the average cost of over the counter options?

$24-$524

What are the advantages of over the counter testing options?

  • For those looking for a face to face interaction, but do not want to visit a healthcare provider, this could be a good option to gain some advice in person.
  • The costs associated with the over the counter option tend to match those of home kits.

What are the disadvantages of over the counter testing options?

  • For those who are looking for total privacy, the over-the-counter option may not be the best choice.
  • Distance may deter people from visiting a retail location or pharmacy that includes a sexual health consultation unit.
  • For those lacking in time, the over the counter option may not be the best route.

Here’s a grid to help you quickly determine which route may be best for you: 


home-kit vs walk-in vs otc

Overall, the home kit is the best choice for those who are looking for convenient, discrete, accessible testing.

It is important to do the research ahead of ordering your test, but we have done that for you so you don’t have to.

Find out more about home kits for sexual health testing here.

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Written by Hannah Kingston on December 27, 2020

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