Technology and the ways people use technology to communicate, learn, and interact with one another is constantly changing. When we first began to see the impact of online sex-seeking on STD and HIV transmission, chat rooms were the main online venue. During those days, desktop computers and dial-up internet service acted as natural constraints to instant access to online sexual and social networking. Today, the constant, lightning speed access to the Internet through tablets, hand-held computers, and smart mobile devices allow users, with a touch of a finger, to find and meet a willing sex partner in a matter of minutes. As each generation of equipment evolves for consumer use, we can expect to see cheaper smart devices, better mobile technology, and even faster Internet access, as well as changes in the way people use them as part of day-to-day living.
Internet Partner Services (IPS) provides a unique set of tools that can facilitate the contact of potentially infected individuals. Currently, IPS is most valuable in contacting individuals that may otherwise be unreachable through traditional partner services. By the time this document is distributed, some of the information contained within will be dated or obsolete as the world of technology changes. Some of the information may become irrelevant and new and emerging trends and technology may be missing. We encourage programs to learn about this constantly changing landscape and to think of how their programs can adapt to, and incorporate, these technological changes into their partner service activities.
The need for direction in regards to IPS has been well established; both the Division of STD Prevention and the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourage use of the Internet for STD/HIV prevention, including IPS.
Overall, technology, and the environment surrounding it, will continue to change. IPS as a tool must adapt to these changes. This may require new training of staff, use of surveys or interviews to assess markets and communities, pilot testing of new strategies, and other programmatic changes. It may require state and local public health entities and business to revise or develop new social policies, and most certainly will lead to more collaboration between online businesses, researchers, program planners, community members, and other stakeholders.
To ensure that partner notification is effective in its mission to reduce STD and HIV transmission, public health programs are encouraged to employ new technologies as they are adopted by the general public. Integrating documentation, program evaluation, process measures, outcome measures, and other forms of data collection and program review specific to IPS remain critical to the long-term success of PS.
This toolkit has attempted to address concerns and provide suggestions on areas such as confidentiality, ethics, computer security, staffing, training, and supervision. It is understood that some significant barriers to the use of IPS in some jurisdictions remain, which make IPS a unique challenge.
This toolkit sets the foundation for effective and productive IPS as a part of overall strategy to reduce STD rates and improve health outcomes.