How Can Partner Services Programs Help Me and My Patients?

Partner Services programs help reduce HIV transmission by facilitating early diagnosis.
Access an array of free services for people with HIV or other STIs.

Partner Services provides free services to people diagnosed with HIV or other STIs, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, and their partners. Partner Services is a function of local and state health department staff, who help to identify and locate sexual or drug injection partners to inform them of their risk for HIV and to provide them with testing, counseling, and referrals for other services.

More than 1 million people in the United States have HIV, and many are unaware of their status. About 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people undiagnosed and unaware they have HIV.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recommendations for Partner Services for patients diagnosed with HIV and other STIs2 have created a renewed focus on this public health priority.

Services Available.
  • Partner notification
  • Testing
  • Linkage to care
  • Referrals for support services
  • Risk-reduction counseling

15% of partners tested by Partner Services were positive for HIV and previously undiagnosed.3

The goals of Partner Services include:

  1. Providing services to people diagnosed with HIV or other STIs, including risk-reduction counseling and referrals for medical care and other services (e.g., psychosocial support and prevention interventions).
  2. Ensuring that sexual and drug injection partners of people diagnosed with HIV or other STIs are notified of their potential exposure, provided with counseling and testing, treated or linked to medical care if needed, and provided with other appropriate referrals.
  3. Reducing future rates of transmission by facilitating early diagnosis.

To learn more about how Partner Services works in your area and to obtain information about state and local laws related to Partner Services, contact your state health department.

For health care providers, Partner Services eases your workload by offering another free resource for patients.

Partner Services programs are not intended to have you, the health care provider, take on more responsibility. In fact, they are designed to ease your workload by offering another free resource to help your patients notify their sexual or drug injection partners of their possible exposure to an infectious disease.

While you are not expected to take on the role of partner notification yourself, it is very helpful for you to educate your patients about Partner Services and its importance in preventing HIV transmission. As part of HIV and STI testing, talk with your patients about Partner Services and let them know that if they test positive for a reportable disease, they may be contacted by someone from the health department. Discuss how Partner Services can help your patients and their sexual or drug injection partners through early access to testing, treatment, and other services, and conduct brief discussions with your patients on how to reduce their sexual and drug-use risk factors.

For people who test negative, Partner Services provides prevention options.

Partner Services can provide people who test negative with information on various HIV-prevention methods, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), condoms, and other sexual and drug-use prevention options. For partners at risk for HIV, consider PrEP. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV from sex (~99% effective) or injection drug use (at least 74% effective). Additionally, access to other services, such as risk counseling, may lead to reductions in sexual and drug-use risk factors.

For people newly diagnosed with HIV, Partner Services notifies sexual or drug injection partners.

People who test positive for a reportable disease, including HIV and other STIs, will be contacted by the health department and given several options to notify sexual or drug injection partners that they may have been exposed to an infectious disease. This is formally known as partner notification. Health departments use one of three methods in this process. Click through each tab below to learn more about each method.

When the health department tells your patient’s partners (“Provider Referral”):

  • Your patient provides partner contact information to the health department.
  • Partners are located by health department staff and made aware of their potential exposure.
  • Partners are provided, or referred for, counseling, testing, treatment, and other services by the health department.

Having the health department inform partners is the best practice. When health departments take responsibility for notification, more partners are successfully notified of their possible exposure.3 For patients, this method helps maintain their anonymity and relieves them of the burden of disclosure. Additionally, health departments link patients to other resources, such as counseling and risk-reduction services. For the partner who may have been exposed, this method facilitates quick access to testing and linkage to care for treatment and other services.

If you are seeing a patient for the first time, speak with them about Partner Services to determine if partner notification was previously addressed. If not, discuss how Partner Services can help them and their sexual or drug injection partners and emphasize the importance of participating in the Partner Services process as a way to help stop the transmission of HIV/STIs.

When the patient tells their partners (“Self-Referral”):

  • Your patient takes on the responsibility of letting sexual or drug injection partners know that they have possibly been exposed.
  • Your patient provides partners with the information about local services, including counseling and testing.

For patients who choose self-referral, Partner Services ensures that adequate time is spent coaching your patients on how to inform their partners about their potential exposure.

When both the patient and the health department tell partners (“Dual Referral”):

  • Your patient, with assistance from health department staff, lets partners know of their potential exposure.

Health department staff are there to help your patient during the process and provide partners with information and access to counseling, testing, and other resources.

For people with HIV, Partner Services provides linkage to care and counseling.

For people with HIV and partners who test positive, Partner Services can provide linkage to treatment and care, risk-reduction counseling, and other services. Partner Services offers another free resource for your patients to access education and counseling about how to live well with HIV. This helps to increase your patients’ knowledge about how to protect themselves and maintain their own health.

If your patient with HIV presents with an STI, make them aware that they may be contacted by someone from the health department. Refer any of your patients with HIV who present with an STI or need help notifying partners potentially at risk to Partner Services.

If your patient with HIV informs you of HIV risk factors (for example, sex without condoms when not virally suppressed or needle sharing during injection drug use), discuss the importance of taking HIV medicine, or antiretroviral therapy, to treat HIV.

Know your state's Partner Services policies and laws.

Health care providers and clinical laboratories are required by law to report certain types of infections to their local or state health departments. If your patient tests positive for one of these infections, they will likely be contacted by someone from the health department. Therefore, it is important to let patients know that the health department may contact them if they test positive for one of the reportable infections and that this is a normal procedure.

The list of reportable infections varies from state to state, but it typically includes HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Other infections may also be reportable, and it is important for you as a health care provider to know which ones are reportable in your area.

Visit CDC’s website to access detailed guidelines for Partner Services for HIV and STIs.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimated HIV incidence and prevalence in the United States, 2015–2019. HIV Surveillance Supplemental Report. 2021;26(1).

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommendations for Partner Services programs for HIV infection, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydial infection. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2008;57(RR-9):1-83.

3 Task Force on Community Prevention Services. Recommendations to increase testing and identification of HIV-positive individuals through partner counseling and referral services. Am J Prev Med. 2007;33(2Suppl):S88.