Telling someone you recently tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV isn’t easy. It is however, an important way to minimize the spread of disease. Howard Brown Health has an innovative program, Partner Services, that will make those difficult calls on your behalf, and we do so anonymously. We spoke with one of our Partner Services Specialists (PSS) about the program and what to expect if this is a service you’d like to take utilize.
Briefly describe the Partner Services Specialist program – what do you do?
Partner Services is a very important part of HIV and STI prevention. Not only do we counsel people who have recently tested positive, we bring them into care and spend a great deal of time talking about sexual partners that potentially may have the infection as well. We intervene in the spread of disease by reaching out to these individuals and ensuring that anybody that may be at high risk for infection receives the information they need to access proper treatment, testing and services.
What happens after a patient sees you – what does the process typically look like for a patient from the moment they come to Howard Brown to the time they leave their time with PSS?
Our Partner Services interview is my favorite part of the job. We meet with patients, introduce ourselves and get to know our clients in detail and talk about EVERYTHING related to their sexual health. We discuss sexual health concerns and needs as well provide referrals to the proper resources. A patient may walk in due to an STI exposure and walk out with plenty of education, treatment, and a clear plan on how to address sexual partners that may be infected. That same patient could even walk out with a follow-up appointment to initiate one of our HIV prevention methods, PrEP.
Why do you think this service is important to our patients?
This service is very important because we help them understand where and when they possibly became infected. We analyze and discuss sexual partners in efforts to determine who may be the source and who may have also been infected. This is a very important process – our patients can take control of their sexual health and know what they can do to avoid re-infection. This empowers them to advocate for themselves.
How do people usually react when you tell them this service is available to them?
Many of our clients appreciate this service and take full advantage because they feel fully supported from the moment they walk into our clinic to the moment they walk out. They receive education, a welcoming environment, treatment and they can even get their sexual partners notified to come in for treatment! Our clients are very thankful that this is offered and it makes their experience coming in for testing more comfortable.
When you reach a partner / people over the phone, how do they react?
Initially, people get weirded out and act surprised because it’s such an unexpected call. However, once we begin to talk, they get concerned and then thankful for the notification. There have been instances where people think it’s a prank or they get upset and hang up. The truth is, we never know how the person on the other end of the phone is going to react so we have to expect and be prepared for every possible scenario.
If someone is concerned about privacy, what are the precautions/procedures in place to protect someone’s privacy?
Ensuring that our patients feel comfortable and secure is always our top priority. We discuss options with our patients to make sure that the route we choose is the best to protect privacy and confidentiality. We make sure not to disclose any identifying information to anyone, whether its gender, time frames, location, or actual sex acts. Patient privacy is of utmost importance.