Partner Services

Key points

  • Partner Services can help patients newly diagnosed with HIV notify their sex or injection drug use partners that they may have been exposed.
  • Partner Services is free through your local health department and provides counseling and referral to other resources.
  • Know your state's Partner Services laws.
A health care provider with a stethoscope typing on a smart phone.

Connect patients with Partner Services

Partner Services provides free services to people diagnosed with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Partner Services is a function of local and state health department staff. It helps identify and locate partners to inform them of the increased chances of getting HIV from sex or drug use. It also provides testing, counseling, and referrals for other services.

Did you know?‎

15% of partners tested by Partner Services had HIV and were previously undiagnosed.1

Easing the workload for health care providers

Partner Services programs are designed to ease your workload. They do this by offering free resources to help patients notify sexual or drug injection partners of their possible exposure to an infectious disease.

Educate your patients about Partner Services and its importance in preventing HIV transmission. As part of HIV and STI testing, talk with patients about Partner Services. Let them know that if they test positive for a reportable disease, they may be contacted by the health department.

Discuss how Partner Services can help them and their sexual or drug injection partners through early access to testing, treatment, and other services. Also, talk to patients about ways to reduce their chances of getting HIV from sex or injecting drugs.

Prevention options for people who test negative

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.

Notify partners for people newly diagnosed with HIV

People who test positive for a reportable disease, including HIV and other STIs, will be contacted by the health department. They will be given several options to notify sexual or drug injection partners who may have been exposed. This is known as partner notification. Health departments use one of three methods in this process.

Health department tells partners

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.1 For patients, this method helps maintain 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.

When 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 sex or drug injection partners and emphasize the importance of participating in the Partner Services process. Explain how it can help stop transmission of HIV and other STIs.

Patient tells partners

When the patient tells their partners, this is known as “Self-Referral.” The patient takes on the responsibility of letting sexual or drug injection partners know that they have possibly been exposed. Your patient also provides partners with the information about local services, including counseling and testing. For patients who self-refer, Partner Services ensures that adequate time is spent coaching them on how to inform their partners.

Both tell partners

When both the patient and the health department tell partners, it’s known as “Dual Referral.” Here, your patient, assisted by health department staff, lets partners know of their potential exposure. Staff help your patient during the process and provide partners with information and access to counseling, testing, and other resources.

Free services and counseling for people with HIV

For people with HIV and partners who test positive, Partner Services can provide linkage to treatment and care. They can also provide linkage to risk-reduction counseling and other services. Partner Services offers other free resources for 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 another STI, make them aware that they may be contacted by someone from the health department. Refer these patients or those who need help notifying partners with HIV risk factors to Partner Services.

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

Know your state’s Partner Services policies and laws

Health care providers and clinical laboratories must, by law, report certain types of infections to local or state health departments. If your patient tests positive for one of these infections, they will likely be contacted by the health department.

It is important to let patients know that the health department may contact them. Be sure to explain that this is a normal procedure.

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

To learn more about how Partner Services works in your area, contact your state health department. Your state health department will also be able to provide information about state and local laws related to Partner Services.

You can also access CDC's Partner Services Guidelines.

  1. 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.