New CDC Apps Help Prevent HIV, STD Spread

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Want your patients to have the latest information on sexually transmitted disease (STD) resources?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has free widgets available to healthcare providers to aid their patients in finding what they need to prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs.

A widget is an app-like tool that may be embedded on a website. Users of the website access the information in the widget by entering their information in it and clicking on it. The owner of the website does not have to perform any maintenance or updates. The maker of the widget (the CDC in this case) does that. It’s an easy way for providers to offer patients information that’s accurate and up-to-date.

The CDC’s STD widgets include ones that help patients find condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), STD testing sites and more resources that can help curb transmission of HIV and other STDs. The widgets may also be used on the CDC site, www.cdc.gov.

“I think that would be very helpful for people to find things they need for their health,” said Jiancheng Huang, director of Oswego County Public Health.

He added that the widgets appeal to adolescents because they more readily engage with technology to find answers to questions and resources they need.

These sentiments were echoed by Debora McDell-Hernandez, senior director of public and community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York.

“I think as long as it is well promoted and people are aware of it, it would be great,” she said. “I think anytime you can develop an accurate app to assist people with any type of healthcare, it’s a plus. The CDC is a name everyone can trust.”

The widgets come in a variety of designs, including with the CDC logo, stock photos and in Spanish.

This allows healthcare providers who download the widgets the ability to customize them to their end users’ needs. The widgets may also be customized to the preference of providers embedding the widget on their site.

McDell-Hernandez added that helping people access information has been challenging for some providers, especially when patients have limited access to the internet because their rural location lacks high speed internet or because they lack a laptop or tablet at home. Most people who do not own a laptop or tablet can access through their cell phones.

“Not everyone necessarily knows about the information out there,” McDell-Hernandez said. “If you have a smartphone and access to Wi-Fi, you could use these apps, whether using for free from a church building or somewhere that you can pick it up.”

The anonymity of using the widgets can encourage people who feel stigmatized about asking their primary healthcare provider sexual health questions, particularly those relating to sexually transmitted infections.

“Smartphone applications or widgets that present sexual health and wellness information is essential for teens, young adults, and older adults in today’s society,” said Jessica Maureen Harris, certified health education specialist and assistant professor in the department of health promotion and wellness at SUNY Oswego.

“The internet and social media play an important role in where individuals are getting their sexual health information,” said Harris. “Many individuals may not feel comfortable, ashamed, embarrassed, or feel as though they would be judged if they sought input from their primary care providers, parents, or even peers.”

New York state maintains a directory of providers at https://providerdirectory.aidsinstituteny.org.

To find the CDC apps and widgets, visit www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep/on-demand-prep.html (scroll down).