Background: The internet and smartphone applications (apps) are increasingly used to facilitate casual sexual relationships. These casual relationships can increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In STD investigations, traditional contact elicitation methods can be enhanced with smartphone technology during field interviews.
Methods: From February to May, 2013 a large, multi-infection investigation among MSM was conducted by Monroe County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) Disease Intervention Specialists (DISs) using both traditional case interviews and cluster interviews. When interviewing index patients who indicated meeting sexual partners online, DISs had real-time access to smartphone apps and were able to elicit more partners through access to inboxes and partner profiles where traditional contact information was lacking.
Results: Fourteen index patient interviews and 2 cluster interviews were conducted; 97 unique individuals were identified among 116 sexual dyads. On average 8 partners were elicited per interview (range: 1-31). The 7 individuals who used the internet or apps to find partners had an average of 3 internet partners per interview (range: 1-5). Among the 97 individuals in the network, 36 (37%) either had a new STD (N=7), or were previously known to be HIV-positive (N=29). Of the 116 dyads, 21 (18%) originated online or with a smartphone app. Of those, 6 (29%) partners were located using the app or a combination of an app and an internet site; 2 (10%) were notified of their exposure via an internet site. Of the new STDs in the network, 3 (43%) were among partners who met online. Social network mapping displays the extent of the investigation and the impact of access to smartphones on the investigation.
Conclusions: Use of smartphone technology by DIS in the field improved contact elicitation, and resulted in successful partner notification and case finding.