Exploring young people’s preferences for STI screening in the UK: a qualitative study and discrete choice experiment

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Introduction: Stigma remains a key issue for many health screening interventions such as screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Young people continue to experience the greatest burden of STI infection. In order to increase uptake, screening services need to be more patient-focused. This study sought to examine young people’s preferences for sexual health screening to understand how scarce public health resources can optimise screening uptake.

Methods: This study involved both qualitative and quantitative components. Focus groups and individual interviews were undertaken with young people aged 16-24 recruited from community settings and a specialist clinic. Themes which emerged from the focus groups were used to inform the design of a discrete choice experiment (DCE). A questionnaire survey (incorporating the DCE) was conducted with members of an internet panel, with over-sampling of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

Results: Overall, 41 participants took part in eight focus groups and two in individual interviews. Six major themes emerged as important when making decisions about STI screening - stigma and embarrassment; knowledge about STIs and risk; where to get tested; how staff would treat them; what STIs to be tested for; and convenience (waiting times). Overall, 1946 participants took part in the survey. The DCE results revealed that the most important factors for young people are that all STIs are tested for, and that staff attitude is non-judgemental. The results also suggest that there is a preference for screening in specialist clinics and for full appointments over limited ones. Although respondents preferred shorter time periods for appointments and results, other ‘process’ factors were also important.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates that by combining qualitative and quantitative methods, a richer understanding of STI screening preferences is possible. The findings show that comprehensive testing and a perceived ‘non-judgemental’ attitude are particularly important to young people, as well as convenience.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113945
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date27 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Apr 2021


  • Mixed methods
  • creening
  • discrete choice experiment
  • focus groups
  • preferences
  • sexually Transmitted infections (STIs)
  • stigma
  • young people


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