Contact tracing relies on the cooperation of the patient. Therefore it is important that health care providers offer supportive, non-judgmental advice and assistance to patients and their contacts. Patients should be informed that their sexual history is confidential. Most individuals feel notifying partners is the ‘right thing to do’; however, they also want advice and support for this from their health care provider. The role of the health care provider is also educational: to assist in the monitoring of the patient to inform the index patient and contacts about the implications of infection, modes of transmission, prevention and treatment options.
Tips for success
- Have contact tracing permanently on your checklist for managing STIs.
- Gain the goodwill and cooperation of the patient. Well-informed patients are more likely to contact partners.
- Educate the patient about the STI. Inform them about asymptomatic infections, potential complications of untreated infection and the possibility of re-infection if a partner is not treated.
- Understand the patient’s particular situation and identify individual barriers to notifying contacts. Inform patients that for many individuals who discuss their STI diagnosis with a partner, the experience is better than they had anticipated.
- Just concentrate on the patient’s most recent risky exposure.
- Appeal to the ‘wider public good’ when discussing why it is necessary to notify contacts – try to personalise the discussion.
- Assume the gender of contacts.
- Ask questions that imply a judgement.