Why This Doctor Uses At-Home Diagnostic Testing to Screen for HPV

Sexual Health

Why This Doctor Uses At-Home Diagnostic Testing to Screen for HPV

Maggie Carpenter

Go Doc Go is a non-governmental, International medical organization that works to prevent cervical cancer around the world. Ash Wellness recently partnered with Go Doc Go to provide HPV at-home diagnostic testing kits to communities in Alabama. We spoke with Executive Director, Maggie Carpenter, MD about the benefits of HPV self-testing.  

Why did Go Doc Go implement an at-home diagnostic testing initiative to screen for HPV?

Cervical cancer is a completely preventable disease caused almost exclusively by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Rates of cervical cancer went down in the United States with widespread Pap testing in the 1950s and 60s. In 2006, swab tests were developed. These tests are just as effective at detecting HPV, but far less invasive than a full pelvic exam. 

My team used to offer free HPV tests as part of our program The Box. We put up a privacy box for people with cervixes to swab themselves. COVID put a stop to The Box, but reading about the increased incidence of cervical cancer in rural Alabama underscored the need for additional testing services. We wanted to enable patients to sign up for a test online and do it at home.   

Why don’t people like to visit in-person clinics?

So many reasons! Medical trauma. Not having insurance. Distance. Gender issues. What if the provider isn’t trans inclusive? Who will watch your kids? Who will pay your bills if you take time off work? It’s easier to swab at home and pop the kit in the mail than it is to drive to an office, fill out paperwork, talk with the nurse, talk with the doctor, get swabbed, and go home. 

What makes HPV testing so conducive to at-home care?

It’s like giving a urine sample — you want a dirty sample. The more cells collected, the more likely to pick something up. There’s no need to swab in a sterile environment like a doctor’s office. It’s also a test that works well for self-collection because there is such a low risk of false negatives. 

How has at-home testing decreased barriers to care?

At-home diagnostic testing is great for people with busy lives, multiple jobs, or who live far away from healthcare resources. It’s easier for those people to perform their own home diagnostics than visit a lab. There’s a generational component, too. Millennial and Gen Z patients have little interest in coming into an office, but they’re willing to engage with telemedicine services and virtual home care. 

What happens if a patient tests positive on an HPV self-test?

I want to first establish that testing positive does not mean the patient has or will even ever get cervical cancer. It takes 20 to 30 years for a persistent HPV infection to develop into cervical cancer. The earlier we catch precancerous lesions, the easier it is to treat them and prevent the cancer from spreading. If a patient tests positive, we bring them in for a Pap smear. However, if a patient tests positive for HPV 16 or 18, which are higher risk strains, we send them directly to get a colposcopy

Where can you, as a doctor, see at-home testing or virtual care being useful outside health screening and infectious disease? 

Abortion care! People can talk to a provider through a telehealth platform and receive abortion pills in the mail. Virtual care and home diagnostics also have the potential to free up primary care providers, especially in rural areas with few doctors. Those doctors could focus their in-person attention on people who really need them.

What do you hope to achieve in your partnership with Ash Wellness?

We want to collect data on who we reach with HPV at-home diagnostic testing. We track things like age demographics, socioeconomic status, and gender. Are we reaching underserved populations? Populations who wouldn’t normally get tested for HPV? If our data is convincing enough, we want to take it to the National Cancer Institute for additional funding. We can remove financial barriers to HPV care.

Join Go Doc Go in becoming an Ash Wellness partner. Book a time with us to discuss how to launch at-home diagnostic testing for your business or healthcare organization.  

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