Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures forced sexual health services to engage with patients remotely. We aimed to understand perceived barriers and facilitators to the provision of digital sexual health services during the first months of the pandemic.
Methods: An online survey and qualitative interviews with UK sexual healthcare professionals recruited online and via snowball sampling were conducted in May–July 2020.
Results: Amongst 177 respondents (72% female, 86% White, mean age = 46, SD = 9), most utilised telephone and email as their main communication channels; however, their perceived effectiveness varied (94% and 66%, respectively). Most agreed that staff needed additional training (89%), the available technology was not adequate (66%) and health professionals were hesitant to provide online consultations (46%). They had positive attitudes towards digitalisation, improving service quality and cost-effectiveness but were concerned about exacerbating health inequalities.
Discussion: The study identifies a need for clear guidelines and training around the use of digital tools as well as a demand for investment in hardware and software required for the provision of remote services. Future research needs to explore the acceptability, safety and effectiveness of various digital tools to narrow health inequalities in sexual health service users.