Background: College students residing in rural areas of the United States have limited access to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening programs; yet, have increased rates of infection.
Methods: Students (N = 326), attending a state university located within a rural community, completed an online survey containing open-ended questions that gauged their perceptions and experiences with HIV/STI testing, amenability to at-home testing technology, and preferences for obtaining at-home testing kits. Inductive coding was used to create themes for each open-ended question.
Results: Students encounter a number of perceived barriers to accessing clinical HIV/STI testing venues including cost, utilization of parents' medical insurance, and stigma. Students desired screening paradigms that allow for a greater sense of privacy and the ability to be empowered through self-sampling methods. This includes the use of at-home testing kits, which could be accessed via mail, campus, or the local community. Although students were overwhelmingly amenable to using at-home testing, students discussed concerns with potential user error that could impact testing accuracy.
Conclusions: Study findings suggest the importance of developing less clinically oriented systems of HIV/STI screening, which allow students to choose from an array of screening options. Removing perceived barriers, notably access and privacy concerns, to HIV/STI testing by leveraging at-home testing is one potential method to increase screening uptake among this at-risk population.