Because many people are uncomfortable discussing subjects that involve
sexual issues and behaviors, accessing a hotline for HIV/AIDS/STD
information is a viable, anonymous option. However, hotlines may not be
appropriate for satisfying every program need. Information generated
through a needs assessment can be used to determine whether a hotline is
appropriate; provide indicators for needed hours of operation, number of
staff, specialty services (e.g., for Spanish-speaking, the deaf); ascertain
appropriate venues for publicizing the hotline number; identify which
population(s) should be targeted; and indicate specific information needs.
If the establishment of a local hotline is not a viable option, the CDC
National AIDS Hotline and the CDC National STD Hotline can be publicized.
Why Establish A Hotline?
A Hotline can do the following:
- Provide easy and immediate access for persons/populations who may not be reached by other methods, e.g., women at risk for HIV infection in rural communities.
- Provide an opportunity for a person to frame a question and have anonymous human contact.
- Provide information in a confidential manner, maintaining the privacy of the caller.
- Provide information in appropriate language level and style and permit discussion of issues caller does not understand.
- Afford the caller up-to-date, accurate information.
- Provide referrals for counseling and testing, treatment services, and various support systems.
- Serve as a monitoring mechanism for impact of public information activities, e.g., PSAs that publicize the hotline number.
- Permit pre-screening of "worried well" to decrease unnecessary HIV testing.
A quality assurance plan should be developed as part of the process of
establishing a hotline. This plan should address the following minimum
- Description of staff recruitment process and necessary qualifications for specialists.
- Information and timeliness for monitoring the specialists for accurate information dissemination, appropriateness of referrals, and proper call management skills.
- Performance appraisal based on whether persons are able to achieve standards; remedial activities for elevating performance; volunteers and paid staff judged according to the same expectations; and volunteers should understand that this is a "job" and conform to hours, vacation rules, confidentiality, etc.).
- Information on publicizing the hotline (in all languages the hotline offers) and methods for documenting calls.
- Explanation of data collection procedures and reporting forms, e.g., collection of information about callers -- who is being reached and what they are asking.
- Description of management techniques for referral information, e.g., a regular review of database or written materials.
Guidelines for Establishing A Hotline
- The hotline should not impose any financial difficulties/barriers on prospective callers (e.g., should be free for the caller).
- Days and hours of operation should meet the needs of the target audience (e.g., not just during business hours, when employed callers could not be assured of privacy for calls).
- The CDC National STD and the CDC National AIDS Hotline numbers should be provided on a taped message for calls received after normal operating hours in order to provide access to callers having immediate needs.
- Physical space should accommodate future staff expansion and additional phone lines.
- Telecommunications equipment should be up-to-date and of sufficient capacity.
- Venues should be available for publicizing the hotline and should be appropriate for targeted audiences.
- Consideration should be given to phone lines that may be needed for special audiences, e.g., non-English speaking people and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Also consider offering an auto-attendant system to operate during off-hours
and weekends. Such a system can offer a menu of pre-recorded messages for
callers who do not need to speak with a counselor, but who want quick and
anonymous access to information.
Staff Characteristics for Hotlines
Hotlines are staffed by information specialists who may be paid personnel
or volunteers, depending upon available financial resources. If volunteers
are used, the organization should commit at least one paid staff person for
management purposes. A paid staff member is needed to ensure consistency
and continuity of services because of the high turn over of staff commonly
experienced among volunteers, the need to ensure quality services, and the
need to maintain consistency in the implementation of policies and
procedures. The manager should maintain and regularly update a
comprehensive list of HIV/AIDS/STD services and organizations. A hard copy
and/or computer-based list should be used by information specialists during
Information specialists provide information over the telephone; therefore,
they require unique skills and abilities. They should always be prepared
for the unexpected and act accordingly.
The successful information specialist should possess the following
- Be knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS/STDs.
- Understand the importance of anonymity and confidentiality.
- Have the ability to speak at various levels that are consistent with the language needs of the callers, e.g., physicians, lay persons who are or are not AIDS-knowledgeable.
- Exhibit active listening skills and be courteous, patient, understanding, and compassionate.
- Display a sensitive and non-judgmental attitude when callers describe concerns, sexual activities, drug use, and/or symptoms.
- Refrain from giving advice during crisis-oriented calls, but appropriately refer to organizations adept in crisis intervention.
- Refer callers to appropriate resources in a timely, efficient manner by using proper call management skills.
- Demonstrate resourcefulness and ingenuity in providing referrals and finding answers to questions.
Once the information specialists have been recruited, they should be
comprehensively trained to meet the challenges of their positions.
Consider teaming new information specialists with more experienced staff
until the new person is comfortable handling calls independently.
A training plan should address the following minimum requirements:
- Measurable goals and objectives for the training.
- Basic medical knowledge about HIV/AIDS/STD, including modes of transmission, disease-causing organisms, signs and symptoms, disease epidemiology, diagnostic methods, disease progression and complications, and treatment.
- Knowledge about common myths and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS/STD and correct information to dispel myths and misconceptions.
- Skills-building exercises in active listening and effective information dissemination (including crisis intervention).
- Interpersonal and multi-cultural communication skills-building.
- In-service training and updates on a continual basis to remain current on issues surrounding HIV/AIDS/STD.
For additional information, consult the training bulletins that the CDC
National AIDS Hotline distributes to state health departments and others.
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